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The Death Instinct and the Recovery of Psychical Integrity in the Bestiary of Women in Love

Mathilde La Cassagnère
p. 77-94

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1D.H. Lawrence’s dislike of Freudianism is well known. In Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious [PU], the essay published in 1923, he compares the Freudian unconscious to a “cellar” in which the conscious mind dumps “his own bastard spawn” (PU 204), and draws a caricature of Freud coming back from this “cavern of darkness” with “a myriad repulsive little horrors” (PU 200). Instead, Lawrence claims to believe in “the true unconscious, where our life bubbles up in us, prior to any mentality” (PU 208), accessible only “by direct experience” (PU 211), “the sap of all life,” including that of a “star-fish” or of “a nettle.” Thus, the Lawrencian view is of a unified—and not exclusively human—being, in basic opposition to the Freudian concept of a fundamentally divided human subject in a state of inevitable repression.

2And yet, beyond this apparently irreconcilable opposition, Lawrence—as a novelist—may have been closer to Freud than he would have cared to admit. In his 1914 letter to Edward Garnett, written during the composition of Women in Love (which took place from 1913 to 1917; [WL]), he rejects the traditional “stable ego” of the character. He explains that “there is another ego, according to whose action the individual is unrecognizable, and passes through […] allotropic states […]—states of the same single radically unchanged element. ([…] diamond and coal are the same pure single element of carbon. The ordinary novelist would trace the history of the diamond—but I say, Diamond, what? This is carbon! And my diamond might be coal or soot, and my theme is carbon” [Clarke 29].)

3Beside the interesting hint at the coal-exploiting world of Women in Love, this metaphor of allotropy (in other words, the spectacular metamorphoses gone through by the “radically unchanged [chemical] element”) more remarkably holds an unwitting prophecy of the theory of instincts delivered by Freud a year later in “Instincts and their Vicissitudes” (published in 1915), where the instinct is presented as “a constant force” arising from “within the organism” (Freud XIV: 119), but whose trajectory is likely to deviate on its way to fulfilment, causing spectacular changes of behaviour—such as turning round upon one’s own self (as in sadism-masochism and exhibitionism-voyeurism), or reversal into the opposite (as in love turned into hate). Don’t these “displacements” (Freud XIV: 123) of the “constant force” sound like an echo of the Lawrencian “allotropies”? Let us observe the vicissitudes of this “carbon” in some human characters of Women in Love as they interact with animals.

“Allotropies”: the “vicissitudes” of the death instinct

4In the famous mare scene, Gerald, the industrial magnate who runs the local mine, compels his horse to keep close to the railway crossing even though she is terrified by the din of the train. The rider violates the nature of the “delicate creature” between his knees, “heavy on her, forcing her back”: “he sank into her […] and […] thrust her back,” “forcing her”; “he leaned forward […], brought her down, sank her down.” Cruelly spurring the flesh of the mare whose sides are “trickling with blood,” he enjoys his power sadistically, “with amusement,” a “half-smiling look into his face” (WL 110–111). He forms with her a pathetic centaur: “both man and horse were sweating with violence”; “the man closed around her […] as if she were part of his own physique” (WL 111–112). What this centaur-like creature epiphanizes is the rider’s violence, as it is unconsciously turned round from the mare upon himself, since she has become “part of his own physique.” This is Gerald’s grim “allotropic” shift from sadism to masochism, a “vicissitude” of his aggressive instinct.

5This prophetic embodiment of the Freudian vicissitudes of violence is resumed in the taming of Bismarck, Winifred’s pet-rabbit. Gudrun’s handling of the pet (“raging,” “furious,” “cruel,” WL 240) is a striking reminder of Gerald’s behaviour during the mare-scene: “[she] thrust in her arm and seized the […] rabbit […], she grasped its long ears.” And Bismarck’s rebellion is conveyed in terms similar to the mare’s: “it […] thrust back […], and in another instant it was in mid-air, lunging wildly […] like a spring coiled and released” (WL 240). As Gudrun is trying to ensnare the rabbit under her arm, Gerald comes along, exchanges with her a gaze of sadistic complicity (“He saw, with subtle recognition, her sullen passion of cruelty,” WL 240) and lends a hand:

He held out his nervous, sinewy hand and took the rabbit […] from Gudrun […]. Then a sudden sharp, white edged wrath came up in him. […] there came the unearthly, abhorrent scream of a rabbit in the fear of death. [Gerald] had slung it round and had it under his arm, fast […]. His face was gleaming with a smile […]. A smile twisted Gudrun’s face.
(WL 240–241)

6The “twisted” quality of Gudrun’s smile emblematizes the reversibility of her sadism into masochism—and back: “She looked at Gerald with strange […] eyes […], almost supplicating, like those of a creature which is at his mercy, yet which is his ultimate victor” (WL 241–242). The scene ends on yet another shift of the couple’s aggressive instinct, as they show each other the wounds inflicted on their flesh by the fighting animal. The moment fills them with a “sinister” masochistic joy, and climaxes for Gerald in a grim ecstasy, when Gudrun’s wound becomes his wound and penetrates his brain in a “hellish” rapture:

She […] showed a deep red score down the silken white flesh. […] it was as if he had had knowledge of her in the long red rent of her forearm, so silken and soft […] The long, shallow red rip seemed torn across his own brain […]. He felt […] as if she had hit him across the face—or rather, as if she had torn him across the breast.
(WL 242–243)

7Here, not only does the couple’s “carbon” oscillate between the sadistic and masochistic modes, it goes through a further vicissitude that causes it to vacillate between two other opposites mentioned in Freud’s essay, scopophilia (voyeurism) and exhibitionism: in mutual “obscene recognition,” they in turn exhibit their own, and “look fixedly” at each other’s torn flesh.

8The alternation of this particular pair of instincts, “to look and to display oneself” (Freud XIV: 129), is mostly at work in Gudrun’s character. During the mare incident, which she is watching, mute and mesmerized, on the other side of the railway crossing, her “black-dilated, spell-bound eyes” and the abundance of verbs marking her visual activity impose the rhythm of her scopophilia. Her sense of detail is impressive, as shown by her fixation on the mare’s nostrils and on the spurs and trickles of blood on the animal’s flank. She owes this visual acuity to her artistic skills, accustomed as she is to targeting her gaze on the animals she represents in small carvings: her sister Ursula one day observes, “She must always work small things, that one can put between one’s hands, birds, and tiny animals. She likes to look through the wrong end of the opera glasses” (WL 39). And when Gudrun shifts to her exhibitionist mode, she enjoys being watched by animals who, in turn, see a diminutive version of her, as in the “Water-Party” episode: dancing “face uplifted and throat full and beautiful” (WL 166), she suddenly realises that she is being observed by “a little cluster of cattle […], their eyes glitter[ing] through their tangle of hair” (WL 167). This puts her in a state of “frenzy”, whereupon the point of view shifts from her to the cattle in whose eyes she is reduced to the “figure” of a woman: “she drifted […] nearer, an uncanny white figure […] ebbing in strange fluctuation upon the cattle that waited […], watching all the time […], as the white figure of the woman ebbed upon them” (WL 167–168). To have become the object of their gaze overwhelms Gudrun with “a terrible shiver of fear and pleasure” (WL 168).

9It is another figure of the artist interacting with the animal species who prophetically embodies the third pair of opposites (love-hate) explored in Freud’s “Instincts and their vicissitudes.” Winifred, Gerald’s little sister, a diminutive version of Gudrun—who unsurprisingly “feels some mysterious connection with her” (WL 234)—is a “scornful” and “arrogant” child, the possessive owner of Bismarck the rabbit and of Looloo the Pekinese dog. On the day Gudrun comes to help her handle the rebellious rabbit, Winifred sets about to draw her two pets under the knowing supervision of her visitor. “Looloo, my sweet darling,” she exclaims several times, repeatedly “kissing the dog” and “flying off to embrace him”. And yet, “she [draws] with a wicked concentration in her eyes.” And after having completed the “grotesque little diagram of a grotesque little animal, so wicked and so comical,” she cries “with real grief for the dog, and at the same time a wicked exultation: ‘My beautiful, why […]? It isn’t like him, is it? He’s much lovelier than that,” all the while uttering an “almost inhuman chuckle” (WL 236). “Darling Bismarck” brings out the same love-hate alternation in the little artist: “‘Isn’t he wonderful! […] Bismarck! […] How dreadful you are! […]’ She chuckled wickedly […]. ‘Eat, eat my darling!’” (WL 240–243).

10Lawrence’s exploration of his characters’ deeper selves is thus remarkably akin to the psychic processes brought to light in Freud’s 1915 essay on “instincts and their vicissitudes.” It is so Freudian indeed as to anticipate by three years a further Freudian discovery: the “death instinct” at the heart of the living, introduced in the 1920 essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle,” a theory to which Freud will adhere until the end, in essays such as “Civilization and its Discontents” (1930) and “Anxiety and Instinctual Life” (1933). Freud observes that the living being is “conservative,” tending towards the restoration of an earlier state of things,” its “first instinct” being “to return to the inanimate state” (Freud XVIII: 37–38). He further specifies that the death drive undergoes its own vicissitudes, either by deviating to a variety of aggressive behaviours (prophetically embodied by Gerald, Gudrun and Winifred), and/or reversing its original inward form outwards and back: “It really seems as though it is necessary for us to destroy some other thing or person in order not to destroy ourselves” (Freud XXII: 105).

11Testifying to Lawrence’s prescience of Freud’s reversible death instinct, Winifred is overcome by an “intense stillness” as she “wickedly concentrates” (WL 236) to draw her pets, as if indeed her destructive instinct had turned round to readopt its original inward trajectory. Likewise, during the taming of the rabbit, Gudrun’s “heart [is] arrested with fury” (WL 240), and her face is ghost-like, “pallid,” “white” and “unearthly” (WL 241–242)—the very adjective that qualifies the rabbit’s death-scream. A moment earlier, Gerald’s body was stiff, “tightened” in the effort to contain the animal, a “blindness […] into his eyes” (WL 241). The two have become figures of death exchanging a “darkened” look, their eyes “strained with underworld knowledge” (WL 241), and the mutual exhibition of their wounds on their white skin reads like a vampire scene, each in turn drinking in, so to speak, the other’s “long red rips,” their “brains” feasting on each other’s “red ether” (WL 242). Vampirism as a variation of the death-instinct underlies the mare scene as well: Gerald’s fang-like spurs on the mare’s bleeding sides make Gudrun “dizzy” with ecstasy, causing her to “turn white” and almost faint. The human pair’s blood-thirst momentarily quenched, and the horse “half-stunned,” the deadly couple shift from a state of frenzy to one of dead calm: “[she] was calm and cold, without feeling […], hard and cold and indifferent […]. [He] seemed to be relaxing confidently” (WL 112).

12It took Freud a long time to discover the existence of his death-instinct, presumably because (as he later observed in “Inhibitions, Symptoms and Anxiety” and in “Anxiety and Instinctual Life”) it is never “pure” (Freud XX: 125), but compounded within “alloys” (Freud XXII: 105), in “mixtures” (Freud XX: 125) with other instincts, and more particularly the life-instinct. Amazingly, Lawrence’s novelistic art presents it in a “pure” state—and this in a thoroughly convincing portrayal of human characters. Women in Love can thus be said to be an epiphany of the Freudian death-instinct.

Man’s own inhumanity: civilization as a wolf-machine

13These scenes of predation and self-predation constitute yet another astonishing foresight and development on Freudian theory—more precisely on Freud’s use of Plautus’ formula, Homo homini lupus, in “Civilization and its Discontents” (Freud XXI: 111), published in the year of Lawrence’s death. In Women in Love, man is indeed a wolf to man… and to animals.

14But for all their resemblance, Freud’s and Lawrence’s wolf-people are a first major point of divergence. Freud regards man’s wolfishness and its vicissitudes as what modern civilization painstakingly represses thanks to its “intelligence,” to its cultural acquisitions and to its counteracting and unifying “life instinct” (Freud XXI: 122). In other words, thanks to what distinguishes the human subject from the animal: “why do our relatives, the animals, not exhibit any such cultural struggle?” (Freud XXI: 123). Conversely, Lawrence projects his wolf-men and women as the offshoots of a civilization gone predatory and ultimately inhuman due to its obsession with intelligence, depicting a mankind brutalized by its own industrial quest and in the process of precipitating all creatures, man and animal alike, even below the most primitive state of life: to a state of mechanisation, of lifeless motion, as revealed by the nightmare of the machine forced into the “delicate” Arab mare (WL 110). The harsh noise of the train penetrates her like metal in a hail of plosives. She is “hurt by the unknown noise”:

The repeated sharp blows of […] terrifying noise struck through her till she was rocking with terror. […] the little locomotive with her clanking steel connecting-rod emerged […], clanking sharply. […] the mad clamour […] resounded through her, as the trucks thumped slowly […]. Back came the trucks rebounding on the iron buffers, striking like horrible cymbals, clashing […] in frightful strident concussions […]. The connecting chains were grinding and squeaking.
(WL 110–111)

15There ensues from the mare’s violation by the machine her gradual transformation into one. Like a piece of machinery, she “recoils like a spring let go” (WL 110), “paws and strikes away mechanically” (WL 111); like a cog in a mechanism, she is “wheeling,” “spinning round and round”; engine-like, “she roars as she breathes”; her nostrils, “two wide, hot holes,” are virtual chimneys; her “heavy panting [sounds] automatically”: a deadly metamorphosis ironically announced from the very beginning of the scene by the sound of the locomotive “panting hoarsely” (WL 110)—like a horse? The machine takes on living features, epiphanizing a civilization which is sucking the life-force out of its own members. Inevitably, Gerald Critch—whose surname is a metallic onomatopoeia—displays “mechanical relentlessness” (WL 111) and cuts like steel, “keen as a sword pressing into [the mare],” his face “shining” like metal.

16The scenario is resumed in the rabbit episode. As the rabbit’s vitality is gradually stifled by the iron-grip of the “electric” man (WL 241), it undergoes the same grim contamination by the machine: exactly like the mare, it is objectified into “a spring coiled and released” (WL 240); and as a mechanism gone berserk, he bursts into a mad gyration “round and round” his hutch, “as if shot from a gun” (WL 243).

17As for Mrs Salmon’s canary-birds, their cages are “placed round a small square window” (WL 134). The birds inside them do not sing, but produce a “shrill noise” (ibid.). Like cuckoos in a clock, and to Ursula’s unpleasant surprise, they can be made to fall asleep “automatically” by covering their cages “to produce the impression of evening” (ibid.). Their human keeper is herself taking on mechanical features, the machine manifesting itself from within, through the “shrilling” voice of the woman, which is “too high” and makes her interlocutors “suffer badly” (ibid.).

18This is Lawrence’s ironical and reversed 20th century version of Descartes’s “animal machine”: man’s all knowing cogito and its inferior, the soulless animal (Descartes 45–48), swap roles so that the cogito is the machine and the animal it preys upon is given a soul, a consciousness: the mare’s horrific experience of the engine’s noise, the cattle’s fascination for a dancing human figure.

19The “inhuman” treatment undergone by these animals in the hands of human characters is also a metaphor for the way in which human beings have come to abuse each other—and themselves—in the context of technological development, even outside industrial circles and among the most “civilized.” The point further is illustrated by Hermione, Birkin’s former intellectual fiancée, a firm believer in the supreme value of the human “will”: “I do really think we must have the courage to use the lower animal life for our needs […]. Either we are going to use the animals, or they will use us” (WL 139). Significantly, she goes on to apply this certitude to human relationships, including the relationship to oneself, in a “slow, dispassionate, and strangely tense” voice:

If only we could learn how to use our will […].The will can cure anything […]. That I am convinced of—if only we use the will properly, intelligently. A very great doctor taught me […] that to cure oneself of a bad habit, one should force oneself to do it, when one would not do it—make oneself do it—and then the habit would disappear. […] in so many things, I have made myself well. […] by learning to use my will, simply by using my will, I made myself right.
(WL 139)

20Something in her speech betrays a dislocation of her being: “a split between what she seems to feel […] and what she actually says and thinks” (WL 140), causing her to behave “convulsively.”

21Such is the perversion of human intelligence in Women in Love. Far from representing what Freud considers as “all that is most precious in human civilization,” these “intelligent efforts” (Freud XVIII: 39–42) fail as a “garrison” (Freud XXI: 124) against the destructive instincts; on the contrary, they galvanize and unleash these destructive instincts, bringing about nothing but a technological version of the primitive cannibalistic tribes modern civilization is supposed to have outgrown in Freudian theory.

22Lawrence’s perception of modern man thus seems closer to late 20th and early 21st century neuroscientific discoveries according to which technology is an outward extension of the human brain, and can conversely virtually extend inward and rewire the brain into a machine-like processor—a two-way phenomenon made possible by the remarkable plasticity of the brain (which, it has been recently discovered, does not diminish in adult life), and further proved by one of its positive implications: the capacity of the disabled brain to bypass its handicap by changing itself when connected to a sophisticated external device (Doidge 306–311). Marshall McLuhan observed in 1969 that “man is beginning to wear his brain outside his skull and his nerves outside his skin,” which only came as a confirmation of what Werner Heisenberg had foreseen some fifteen years earlier: technology as “a development of mankind in which the innate structures of the human organism are transplanted in an ever-increasing measure into the environment of man” (19–20). At the dawn of the 21st century, there is growing concern that the human brain could be so malleable as to surrender to the ways of a technology-driven environment and thus display the inflexible and machine-like behaviour dispositions exemplified by iron-willed characters like Gerald the piston-rider or the eerily slow-processing Hermione. In his own artistic way, Lawrence uncannily foresaw the concerns of present day neuroscience, an insight that never left him and which he condensed, some ten years later, in the flash of his poem “Men and Machines”:

Man has invented the machine
and now the machine has invented man […]
And men have perforce to be little dynamos
and little talking radios
and the human spirit is so much gas, to keep it all going.
(CP III: 74–75)

23Lawrence intuited yet another discovery of today’s neuropsychiatry, which posits that since the end of the romantic era western civilizations have suffered from an increasing imbalance in the human brain, whose left and right hemispheres, which apprehend the world in different ways, have lost the capacity to communicate. The two perspectives being equally important—as in the animal brain—this imbalance puts our psychic integrity at risk. The right hemisphere is receptive to the unpredictability of experience and its continuous flow; it puts us in touch with the uniqueness of beings and events, and gives us a sense of context. But to learn from this world that is always in motion, we need the left hemisphere’s capacity to make it more predictable, through classification and theorization: “this kind of attention isolates, fixes […] each thing […]. In doing so it renders things inert, mechanical […]. This gives us power” (McGilchrist 30–31, my italics). The equal significance of these two ways of attending to the world accounts for the necessary division of the brain, and the no less essential communication of its two halves: “creativity depends on the union of things that are also maintained separately—the precise function of the corpus callosum [the neural membrane at the juncture of the two halves], both to separate and connect; and interestingly division of the corpus callosum [as happens in some strokes] does impair creativity” (McGilchrist 42). It would seem that since the industrial revolution, the left half has gradually come to ignore its right counterpart and taken the upper hand, inflicting on civilization an ontological stroke of sorts.

24Birkin precisely reproaches Hermione with privileging detachment over connection, theory over context, intellect over experience. After having heard her claim that she would rather be “an animal” than a school girl crippled with knowledge—a speech which does not fool him—he confronts her with her own incoherence:

You don’t want to be an animal, you want to observe your own animal functions, to get a mental thrill out of them […]. What is it but the worst […] form of intellectualism, this love of yours for […] the animal instincts? […] You’ve got your own fixed will […] and there is nothing beyond […] your […] bullying will […]. You have no sensuality […], only your will and your conceit of consciousness.
(WL 41–42)

25This divorce of knowledge (“observing” the animal) from experience (“being an animal”) is further conveyed in the novel by a black and white dichotomy: Winifred the little bully dresses in black and white (WL 236–237), and her split being seems to have done its work on her black and white pet rabbit. White as the livid Gerald, Gudrun and Hermione; black as “the great dark involuntary being” Birkin aspires to recover: “when the mind and the known world is drowned in darkness […]. Then you find yourself a palpable body of darkness […], Woman wailing for her demon lover” (WL 43).

26Birkin’s quote from Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan” reveals the Lawrencian yearning for the reconciliation of “the mind” and the “darkness,” somewhat akin to the unified romantic psyche—whose creativeness was broken when the “split” of the brain started with the industrial revolution. The desire to reconcile the black and white antagonism will be resumed by Lawrence in the later poem “Climb Down, O Lordly Mind,” where the “lofty white mind,” or over-conscious “cogito,” is invited to “come down from its pre-eminence” to get back “in touch” with the “forever invisible and instinctive non cogito.” This “dark moon [which] draws the tide” (CP II: 205-206), we can now understand it to be the Lawrencian unconscious: an unconscious which needs not—should not—be made “discontent,” since it is a force “in touch” with the world.

The “equilibrizing” bestiary

27Who better than non hubristic creatures, “lower” animals, can drive the lofty human mind back on its way to integrity? For all its predicaments, the bestiary of Women in Love is a synecdoche of the cosmos, establishing a powerful interplay and a creative equilibrium between its small-scale individualities and the universe, and thus a model for the human psyche.

28Even the bullied creatures hold cosmic potentialities, as if some irreducible life-force within had survived. Could such a remote and massive planet as Saturn be reflected in Looloo the dog’s “saturnine” eyes (WL 236)? There seems to shine, even in the eyes of this “vanquished” little dog, a light of immensity. His fellow-prisoner the rabbit displays this cosmic potential as he whirls and levitates like a planet in his rebellion, his “body flying,” “a ball in the air” (WL 240–241). Likewise, the fighting mare “spins and swerves,” “opens her mouth […] as if she were in the centre of some whirlwind” (WL 111), announcing the imagery developed some ten years later in the poem “Climb Down,” where the “pivotal core of the soul” is “reeling […] spinning […] gasping/towards the breathing stars” (CP II: 205–206).

29Moreover, the bestiary displays an essential capacity of the unified psyche: the striving for emancipation from the will that seeks to possess and mortify its individuality. The mare “convulsing herself utterly away” (WL 111), the rabbit “thrusting back” (WL 240), and even the “reproachful eyes” (WL 236) of the little dog, are no other than novelistic embodiments of Lawrence’s analysis, in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, of “[the child] drawing itself back suddenly […], screaming itself rid of the old womb, kicking itself in a blind paroxysm into freedom, into separate […] independence” (PU 219–220). Even in this theoretical text, the search for one’s “own new, separate power” is developed in cosmic and animal imagery, as an “effort […] to extricate [oneself] from cohesion with the circumambient universe,” and as a “mare kicking off her too-babyish foal” (PU 221). This is in total contrast with the Freudian notion of severance: what Freud establishes as inherent in the death-instinct, and systematically opposes to the cohesive struggles of the life-instinct, Lawrence considers as a creative act of independence and rebirth.

30What’s more, Lawrence’s essays, poetry and novel converge again to suggest that it is only by way of a confluence of the two opposed phenomena—severance and cohesion—that psychic integrity can be recovered. In Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, this combination is

[…] a wonderful rich communion, and at the same time a continually increasing cleavage […]. These are the two synchronizing activities of love, of creativity […]. The goal is […] a harmony which depends on the […] singleness of each being, a singleness equilibrized […] in one by the counter-posing singleness of the other. (219)

31In the poem “Climb Down,” “Man is an alternating consciousness/ […] alone./ And yet/reeling with connection […]./ Back and forth goes the balance” (CP II: 205–206): a vital balance which Women in Love projects in the image of dancing butterflies.

32Popping out of thin air, the delicate creatures connect with a flower or the sun: “little blue ones suddenly snapping out of nothingness into a jewel life, a large black-and-red one standing upon a flower and breathing with his soft wings, intoxicatingly, breathing pure, ethereal sunshine” (WL 119). Others, like miniature suns, yearn for each other in their mutual cosmos and yet “wrestle” at the same time, maintaining the separateness, the precious aloneness and individuality: “two white ones [were] wrestling in the low air; there was a halo around them; ah, and when they came tumbling nearer they were orange tips, and it was the orange that had made the halo.”

33A beautiful alchemy, this “nothingness” transmuted into “jewel life” is in striking opposition to the Freudian nothingness—the inanimate state of death to which the “conservative” living substance is urged to return (Freud XVIII: 36–39). It is another “allotropy”: but an allotropy which works counter to the vicissitudes of the destructive instincts embodied by Gudrun, Gerald, Winifred and Hermione. Ursula, who witnesses the butterfly alchemy, is also its human embodiment. The very first time she is described in the novel, she exudes a vibrant golden glow that announces the orange halo of the butterflies (“having always that strange brightness of an essential flame,” WL 9). In the scene of the dance, though at first very much present as a focaliser, “she [then] rises and drifts away, unconscious like the butterflies” (WL 119), not to reappear until the next chapter—as if shifting from “jewel life” to “nothingness”, and back.

34If there is a creature in the novel which most intensely embodies this alchemy, combining as it does the butterflies’ “jewel” quality and Ursula’s “flame”, it is the stray she-cat courted by Mino, Birkin’s domesticated tomcat. Her eyes are “green and lovely as great jewels,” “flaring like great green uncanny fires” (WL 149) which she flashes in between two phases of “self-obliteration.” She engages with her male counterpart in a chase which is no other than a feline version of the equilibrized tumbling of the butterflies’ dance, to the rhythm of his “light handsome cuffs” and of her “soft swift rushes.” Throughout the episode, fricatives mimic the soft touch whereby the two protagonists connect without mingling, a quality of touch which clearly distinguishes this true sensuality from the destructive osmosis of Gerald and his mare accompanied by an onslaught of plosives.

35What’s more, Mino and the stray cat are prophetic embodiments of the “white lordly mind” and deep “dark non cogito” which Lawrence will reconnect in the poem “Climb Down”: he, “erect and kingly,” “lordly” on his “white paws,” “disdainful”; she, “shadow”-like, invisible “like a brown leaf on the ground,” keeping her distance and yet exerting her jewel-like attraction. After the joust she “vanishes” unscathed, and he “looks into the distance […] completely oblivious […] as if he were looking at the sun” (WL 149), the mystery of their individualities preserved.

36Here, as in the butterfly episode, the cosmic imagery (her “flaring” eyes, his “looking at the sun”) connects the individual to the universe, an imagery introduced a few lines before in Ursula and Birkin’s conversation: the latter declares (to his perplexed interlocutor), “What I want is a strange conjunction with you […]. Not […] mingling […], but an equilibrium, a pure balance of two single beings:—as the stars balance each other” (WL 148). After the feline encounter, and as if taking their cue from the cats, the human couple resume their dialogue, engaging in a stimulating verbal joust in which it is the feminine protagonist, this time, who “cuffs” her masculine counterpart:

“[…] with the Mino, it is the desire to bring this female cat into a pure stable equilibrium […]. Adam kept Eve in the indestructible paradise, when he kept her single with himself, like a star in its orbit.”
“Yes—yes—” cried Ursula, pointing her finger at him. “There you are—a star in its orbit! A satellite! […] that’s what she is to be! […] you’ve given yourself away! You want a satellite […], you’ve dished yourself!”
He stood smiling in frustration and amusement and irritation and admiration and love. She was so quick […] in her dangerous flamy sensitiveness […].
“Tea is ready, sir,” said the landlady from the doorway.
They both looked at her, very much as the cats had looked at them.
(WL 150–151)

37Could this kind verbal wrestling contribute to the rehabilitation of the “wolf teeth” advocated by Lawrence in Fantasia of the Unconscious (the essay published in 1923 together with Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious)? These are the attributes of a Lawrencian wolf which has nothing to do with his Freudian repressed killer-cousin, or with the technological predator conveyed elsewhere in the novel. True to Lawrence’s idea of the good life, this wolf embodies the confluence of the unconscious and the conscious mind, of sensuality and the will: “The teeth are the instruments of our sensual will […]. Where in us are the sharp and vivid teeth of the wolf?” (FU 57–58); they could be in the animal within that guides us back to our humanity.

Works Cited

38Clarke, Colin, ed. D.H. Lawrence. The Rainbow and Women in Love: a Selection of Critical Essays. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire and London: Macmillan, 1969.

39Descartes, René. Discourse on Method—Meditations on First Philosophy. Leipzig: BN Publishing, 2007.

40Doidge, Norman. The Brain that Changes Itself. London: Penguin, 2007.

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Mathilde La Cassagnère, « The Death Instinct and the Recovery of Psychical Integrity in the Bestiary of Women in Love », Études Lawrenciennes, 45 | 2014, 77-94.

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Mathilde La Cassagnère, « The Death Instinct and the Recovery of Psychical Integrity in the Bestiary of Women in Love », Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 45 | 2014, mis en ligne le 28 février 2015, consulté le 29 mai 2017. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/lawrence.218

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Mathilde La Cassagnère

Université de Savoie

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