Monday, 22 March 2021

From Morris to Lawrence

The first sentence of D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love reads as follows: ‘Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen sat one morning in the window-bay of their father’s house in Beldover, working and talking’.  In his old Penguin edition of the novel, Charles Ross adds a note to the third word here, the name ‘Gudrun’, so we dutifully turn to the back pages of the paperback.

The lengthy note reads thus: ‘In Teutonic legend the rival of Brynhild for the affections of Sigurd.  She dreams her role in the ensuing blood-feud: to steal Sigurd from Brynhild by magic, to watch him slain by Brynhild in revenge, and to repay in kind by marrying and murdering Atle, Brynhild’s brother.  Such is the legend in Volsunga Saga, adapted by William Morris in The Story of Sigurd (1876).  Morris also wrote "The Lovers of Gudrun" in The Earthly Paradise (1869), an adaptation of the Laxdaela Saga which ends with the husband-slayer lamenting: “I did the worst to him I loved the most”’.

Well, Women in Love is a modernist rather than realist novel, so it is open to legendary and mythological resonances in a way that something like George Eliot’s Middlemarch would on principle not be, and the later Loerke/Loki linkage in the book has often been noted.  But whether Lawrence’s novel is as fully in the grip of a Morris-mediated Teutonising as Ross’s early and weighty footnote implies, I’m not quite sure.  It would be interesting to see a fullscale reading of the book which tried to enforce in detail the Morris-Lawrence lineage suggested here.



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