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Twilight of the Aristocrats: Foreign Words in Women in Love

Juliette Feyel
p. 205-226

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1Among Lawrence’s novels, Women in Love is remarkable for its frequent use of foreign words. Leaving aside the most common borrowings, many phrases in French, Italian, and German appear so strange to the English-speaking reader that Mark Kinkead-Weekes provided translations for them in the textual apparatus of his edition. One could argue that this is justified since the last chapters take place abroad, when the four main characters travel across the continent; foreign phrases contribute to give local colour to the text. But this argument does not stand since the occurrences are found through the entire text. A better explanation lies in the fact that the novel depicts the habits proper to a social elite and an artistic coterie who use foreign words and phrases as a social currency the mastery of which defines membership. Sometimes, such practice can give way to mere scenes of aggression. The ability to speak a foreign language can be at once inclusive and exclusive; it is either a way of bringing people together or a means of discrimination. Moreover, this conveys a whole set of connotations related to how British people imagined other cultures at various periods of history. In some situations, the use of a foreign phrase enables the speaker to name a reality which is alien to English culture. Another world, with different sets of values, is called up. And when the reality exists in both languages, foreign words both complicate and veil the literal significance of the statement. Different layers of significance are juxtaposed, which adds to the complexities of the message and sheds a particular light on the situation of the dialogue. In this paper, we shall apply pragmatics to the reading of Women in Love and analyse how foreign words are used, by whom, and for what purpose, according to the impact they have on those who hear them.

  • 1 Colin Milton, 1987.
  • 2 For example “Blessed are the Powerful,” (Phoenix II. 436-443) “Aristocracy” (Ibid. 475-486).

2“This novel pretends only to be a record of the writer’s own desire, aspirations, struggles,” (485) Lawrence says in the foreword. When he wrote his book, he wanted to express his bitterness and despair at the outbreak of the war, which he interpreted as the logical outcome of a long declining process. The first title, Dies Irae, suggested the prophetic stance he had adopted. In his views, should it follow this course, civilization would come to its twilight, a term referring also to Nietzsche, a seminal influence on the shaping of the writer’s ideas.1 Lawrence seems to draw inspiration from The Birth of Tragedy when he attributes all evil to the introduction of mental consciousness into culture. He also demonstrates a kinship with the German philosopher’s view on natural aristocrats. In several texts,2 Lawrence expressed the hope of seeing a caste of superior individuals saving humanity through a reactivation of creative centres and a rejuvenation of vital energies. The writer believed in an “aristocracy of the sun,” (Complete Poems 526) an elite yet unseen, who would get rid of the previous hierarchies, an elite freed from the old mechanical morals drawing its nobility directly from the source of life. Women in Love depicts how this new aristocracy overcomes the old one and the way in which its use of foreign words is emblematic of its foundations and the manner of its triumph. The chapters set in the Alps dramatize the birth of a supranational community which seems to fulfil Lawrence’s utopian aspirations. Unfortunately, the ending of the novel shows how the new aristocratic order creates its own limitations and destruction, suggesting that words are not to bring about the real change he was hoping for.

Two aristocracies

  • 3 “Vehicle for culture” (German).

3The novel depicts British society as being extremely hierarchical. In the first chapter, Ursula and Gudrun are symbolically looking on the wedding crowd from the distance. They do not belong to the “aristocratic” ruling classes: the immensely wealthy Criches and Hermione Roddice, daughter of a baron, and sister of a member of parliament. The third pillar on which her pre-eminence stands is education. She considers herself as a “Kulturträger3(16). Note that the German word is used in its masculine form, as if intelligence and civilization were the privilege of men. She is learned, she has a perfect mastery of high culture and the use of German conveys a cosmopolitan connotation. The word refers to a society in which scholars are traditionally revered and suggests the idea of a sacred power devolved to the intellectual elite.

  • 4 “Of course he understands Italian […] he won’t have forgotten it, Mummy’s language” (Italian).

4Hermione demonstrates on many occasions how snobbish she is. In public, she insists in addressing the Contessa in Italian despite the latter’s perfect command of English (91). Italian is related to Renaissance culture, and at the time, travelling was also the exclusive privilege of rich people. In “Woman to Woman,” Italian becomes an efficient weapon of exclusion. As the relationship between Birkin and Ursula moves towards an awkward equilibrium, the sudden reappearance of Hermione, determined to oust her rival, leads to a literal war of words on several fronts. In order to win Birkin back, Hermione decides to bring the conversation around to the issues of contemporary Italian politics. The topic gives Hermione the opportunity to exclude her rival from a field Ursula knows nothing about. Moreover the baroness engages in what she regards as a manly type of conversation, implying that Ursula is a brainless female: “[Hermione] was apt, mentally, to condescend to women such as Ursula, whom she regarded as purely emotional” (292). She goes further in her enterprise of humiliation when she suddenly breaks into Italian “as if, in thinking of the Italians she thought in their language” (299), the narrator notes sarcastically. She then uses the cat as a pretext to carry on speaking in a language that Ursula cannot understand. Recalling Mino’s origins, she seems to suggest through the womb-like symbol of the basket that a filial relationship relates her to Birkin: “His mother was Italian. She was born in my waste-paper basket, in Florence, on the morning of Rupert’s birthday” (200). Her caressing sing-song utterance in a foreign language, coupled with the seemingly innocuous topic being addressed, enables her to hide her real agenda. Ursula clearly discerns Hermione’s attempt to claim her rights over Birkin but she has no means of defending herself. She tries to maintain her position on the battlefield, underlining how ludicrous it is to speak to an animal when she asks if the pet can understand Italian. Hermione answers disdainfully in Italian: “‘Siccuro che capisce italiano, […] non l’avra dimenticato, la lingua della Mamma’”4 (300). Her speech thus remains beyond reproach, while she makes a direct claim to Birkin’s allegiance by playing with the cliché of the exclusive love of Italian males for their mothers. Her Machiavelian strategy brings about an indisputable triumph and Ursula finally admits to herself that “she was almost a parvenue in their old cultured milieu” (300).

5Nevertheless, the rise of the Brangwen sisters is already an omen of the twilight of the old aristocracy. Thanks to their own merits, the artisan’s daughters succeed in being received in high society. Ursula is independent, has a job, and is educated. As for Gudrun, being a successful artist in London familiarized her with the aristocracy that associated with the arts. Outside of Beldover, she had already met Hermione on an equal footing. Being an artist, she actually does not really belong to any conventional category:

“I don’t suppose you will see very much more of Gudrun, at least. She is a restless bird, she’ll be gone in a week or two,” said Birkin.
“Where will she go?” [asked Gerald.]
“London, Paris, Rome—heaven knows. I always expect her to sheer off to Damascus or San Francisco; she’s a bird of paradise.” (94)

6An exotic flavour is conveyed through the various foreign cities’ names enumerated by Birkin. The artist is free; she crosses all frontiers and social barriers. This provides Gudrun with an aura surpassing all titles of nobility. “Class-barriers are breaking down!” (94) Birkin says jeeringly to Gerald, who cannot get used to such a change. The Brangwens are representative of the ascent of a new class determined to compete with the established aristocracy.

7Their main strategy is based on the reversal of the ruling classes’ linguistic strategies in their favour. The Brangwen sisters often use French together. Crossing through the jeering Beldover crowd, they decide to defy the world with an emphatic haughtiness:

  • 5 “Look, look at these people! Aren’t they unbelievable owls?” (French)

[Gudrun] made a point of saying loudly, to Ursula: “Regarde, regarde ces gens-là! Ne sont-ils pas des hiboux incroyables?”5 And with the words of French in her mouth, she would look over her shoulder at the giggling party. (156)

8French is a social criterion proving that one is educated and sophisticated. It is also associated with the nobility as it refers to a time when this was the language of all courts in Europe. As for “incroyable,” it may be an allusion to the Directoire dandies who were known for their supercilious attitude. In any case, French becomes a way of asserting their sophistication.

  • 6 “Rather too many people” (French).
  • 7 “For me, she doesn’t exist” (French).

9At the “water party,” the two sisters intend to draw a line between themselves and the other guests when they inform Gerald that they won’t mingle with the crowd: “un peu trop de monde.”6 (161) Gerald thinks he is being witty when he answers: “Yes, there’s a fair number of ’em,” affecting a working-class accent and assuming the Brangwens share his sort of social disdain. He is mistaken though, as the sisters’ elitism does not rely on money and birth, but on some natural distinction and individualism. This set of values explains why they consider themselves as being superior to Hermione: “Pour moi, elle n’existe pas” Gudrun says.7 (50) Speaking French proves that one is above all conventions and does not take the judgement of others into consideration, whatever their reputation and standing may be. Together, the sisters enumerate their virtues: beauty, taste, intelligence, sensitivity. They assert values which they choose freely, disregarding social norms and rejecting what they perceive as the quintessence of British morals:

  • 8 “down-to-earth” (French).

“Yes, Ursula, it is awful, in most respects. You daren’t be anything that isn’t amazingly à terre,8 so much à terre that it is the artistic creation of ordinariness.” (51)

10A few lines later, they refer to Corneille as a way of expressing nostalgia for greatness, which the idealized characters of the French playwright embody, before concluding with a sort of prideful “je m’en fiche.” (52) The English translation of the phrase (I don’t give a damn) sounds more aggressive and does not render the touch of flippant carelessness conveyed by the French colloquialism.

11When the sisters leave their parents’ house, they vent their aversion for a conventional existence:

  • 9 “One must respect one’s own follies […] those of the father […] and of the mother […] and of the ne (...)

“Why does every woman think her aim in life is to have a hubby and a little grey home in the west? Why is this the goal of life? Why should it be?” said Ursula.
“Il faut avoir le respect de ses bêtises,” said Birkin.
“But you needn’t have the respect for the bêtise before you’ve committed it,” laughed Ursula.
“Ah then, des bêtises du papa?”
“Et de la maman,” added Gudrun satirically.
“Et des voisins,” said Ursula.
They all laughed […].9 (375)

12French adds a humorous touch to the dialogue. The return of bêtise and the anaphora taken up by the various voices reminds the reader of operetta. The use of baby-language “papa” and “maman” debunk parental authority and exorcize social pressure. French helps them to deride narrow conformism and so does the play on the singular “bêtise” [stupidity] turning into the plural “bêtises” [foolish deeds or sexual indiscretions]. The three characters are going to start a quest for a new model of life, free from traditional standards.

13While French acid wit mocks vulgarity, the three characters’ ideal is spoken of in German. While the sisters have escaped the water party and found a pure locus amoenus, Ursula suddenly starts to sing Ännchen von Tharau. The singer is described as “peaceful and sufficient unto herself, sitting there unconsciously crooning her song; strong and unquestioned at the centre of her own universe” (165). Their ideal appears to be one of individualism and capacity of abstracting oneself from the rest of the world.

14Along with independence from the judgement of others, the new aristocrats are free from any bond:

“To marry, one must have a free lance, or nothing, a comrade-in-arms, a Glückstritter. A man with a position in the social world—well, it is just impossible, impossible!”
“What a lovely word—a Glückstritter!’ said Ursula. “So much nicer than a soldier of fortune.”
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Gudrun. “I’d tilt the world with a Glücksritter.” (374)

15One may recognize a hint at the novel Die Glücksritter (1841), written by Joseph von Eichendorff. Hence the opposition to petit bourgeois values is symbolized by the motif of the wanderer, which carries us back to the Middle-Ages as idealised by German Romanticism.

  • 10 Sylvain Floc’h, 2001.

16As many critics have observed, Gerald is always associated with German mythology.10 Ursula compares him to a “Nibelung” (47), and he seems to embody the ideal of the new aristocrat because of his resemblance with Siegfried, evoked through snowy, crystalline, and solar images. At first glance, Gudrun is struck by a revelation: “His totem is the wolf” (14). Identifying him with a German mythological creature, she perceives a kinship between them, as her own name carries the same cultural references. Birkin recognizes Gerald as an intrinsically exceptional individual and intends to make the young industrialist abandon the conventional values he was brought up in. To that end, Birkin invites his friend to establish a new sort of “Blutbrüderschaft” (206). German connotations mingle with medieval legends in order to promote the new aristocratic community according to the values of strength, manliness, and heroism.

17However, as anti-Germanic feelings were particularly strong in Britain at the time he was writing, Lawrence seems to want to avoid negative connotations attached to violence and pan-Germanism. A discussion about Nietzsche’s notion of will to power provides insight into the values defended by Birkin. Ursula employs it as a synonym for brutality. Observing the courtship of two cats, she uses the notion in order to denounce male domineering attitudes towards women. Yet Birkin introduces a distinction:

“I agree that the Wille zur Macht is a base and petty thing. But with the Mino, it is […] a volonté de pouvoir, if you like, a will to ability, taking pouvoir as a verb.” (150)

18The use of French enables Birkin to make an extra distinction; militaristic connotations are discarded in favour of a definition of power involving creativity and self-overcoming. The new aristocrats define themselves through specific ethics; not only do they negate the old order, they actually question all kinds of order. Their creed is to bring down the walls preventing individuals from crossing linguistic, social, and national barriers. As Birkin puts it, it is only worth living like “decent people […] thorough rejecters of the world […] openly at outs with the conventions.” (60)

The end of Babel’s curse

19In order to embrace the destiny of a real Glücksritter, Birkin quits his career and rejects the very idea of having a home. He convinces Ursula to wander throughout the world with him, since she also yearns for “an aristocratic extravagant splendour” (315) and shares the view that love for England is “like a love for an aged parent who suffers horribly from a complication of diseases, for which there is no hope” (395). The journey on the continent undertaken by the quartet responds to Birkin’s wish for creating a new community:

“There’s somewhere where we can be free […] To be free, in a free place, with a few other people! […] It isn’t really a locality, though,” he said. “It’s a perfected relation between you and me, and others—the perfect relation—so that we are free together.”

20They turn their backs on a spectral world while they travel across Europe to the Tyrol. The journey is depicted as a descent among shadows into Hades. Although they come across a cosmopolitan universe, the multiplicity of languages appears as a Babel-like dehumanization of men: “Everybody was hurrying with a blind, insect-like intentness through the dark grey air, porters were calling in un-English English” (389). The French that appears in the text is no longer refined and noble, it is a common, and “ugly” language coming out from the mouth of an “insolent” porter or “large florid business-men” (391). The names of cities and regions give an effect of estrangement. Their repetition in French, German and English (“ELSASS-LOTHRINGEN-Luxembourg, Metz-BASEL […] Basle […] Bâle”) reminds the reader of German occupation and hints at the revengeful feelings that led to World War I. The working-classes’ hatred towards those they serve, the ugliness of power based on money, and a looming political crisis are all present in the excerpt, elements which Ursula tries to forget about.

  • 11 Traditional name for a rooster.
  • 12 Further, Birkin gives an English equivalent: “pure flowers of dark corruption” (173).

21As for Gerald and Gudrun, they choose to call at London and Paris on their way. French does no longer sound as an aristocratic lingua franca. The café where they go to in London is called “Pompadour,” in reference to the dissolute morals of Louis XV’s time. The portrayal of London Bohemian circles generates an impression of decay in the ultimate stage of corruption. The Paris they discover fits the stereotypical image of “Gay Paree” where European upper-classes enjoyed the taste of debauched life. “La vie, c’est une affaire d’âmes impériales,” a guest cries (393). Yet the image he gives of a drunken man perched on top of a table turns his statement into a parody of greatness. Telling her sister what happened there, Gudrun notes bitterly Gerald’s promiscuous behaviour and gives him the derogatory French nickname “Chanticleer”11 (394). She resents him for treating her like a “type” (378). It is difficult to determine whether the mistake was made on purpose, as the word is always masculine in French and means “bloke.” In order to venture a hypothesis, Lawrence may have confused the translation “mate/bloke” with “mate/sexual partner.” Anyway, he clearly wanted to play on the sexual connotations associated with French. Gudrun wants to suggest that Gerald picked her up as a rich boy’s entertainment because of her social inferiority. As for Birkin, he speaks about “fleurs du mal” (173 and 384)12 when he wants to point to his contemporaries’ decadence.

22Their arrival in the Alps gives rise nonetheless to what is a complete change in atmosphere. From now on they are away from civilisation and its foulness. The omnipresence of snow, a white cold element which purifies the earth from all scoria, the largely emphasised remoteness of the place, such components contribute to build up the image of an abstract desert. All hearts rejoice:

“Don’t you love to be in this place?” cried Gudrun. “Isn’t the snow wonderful! Do you notice how it exalts everything? It is simply marvellous. One really does feel übermenschlich—more than human.” (394)

23Once again, the new aristocracy refers to Nietzsche to define itself. All the necessary conditions seem to have coalesced to give birth to a utopia in this place outside from society.

  • 13 “living-room […] guest-house […] coffee with ring-shaped cake […] Splendid and wonderful and very b (...)
  • 14 “the Schuhplatteln, the Tyrolese dance of the clapping hands and tossing the partner in the air at (...)

24The passages describing their encounter with the other guests of the boarding house display signs which herald a possible supranational communication. At first, German words like “Reunionsaal” and “Gasthaus” accumulate in order to create an effect of local colour. Sometimes they belong to the most common vocabulary: “Kaffee mit Kranzkuchen,” “prachtvoll and wunderbar and wunderschön and unbeschreiblich and all the other German adjectives,” Birkin says (402-404),13 finding their exoticism amusing. A little further, German people are only perceived through the lens of stereotypes, as the text mentions their moustaches, their ostensible politeness and the colour of their hair: “The new-comers had a sense of many blond faces looking their way” (404). Prejudice has not completely disappeared at this point. Nevertheless the English are gradually won over by the attentions of the strangers. Ursula is invited to sing and music manages to break the ice. Even if the English don’t understand German, they are charmed by the music of the compliments the Germans make “in soft, reverent voices” (407). Barriers seem to have collapsed. Laughter, music, and dance allow a mixture of languages to happen: “Will you schuhplatteln, gnädige Frau?”14 (411). Gerald and Gudrun kiss while an old German folk song is being played. Everyone mixes languages and the narrator invisibly erases all difficulties: slow translations, hesitations, misunderstandings, and repetitions. The professor and Gerald, Ursula and Loerke speak together in clumsy German but the narrator reports their exchanges in English, providing a total transparency as if all differences had magically disappeared.

  • 15 “In high relief” (Italian).

25Loerke eventually attracts Gudrun’s attention and exerts a strange fascination over her. Although none of them speaks the other’s language, the obstacle is rapidly overcome thanks to their common passion: “It had become immediately a laconic series of question and answer between fellow craftsmen” (423). As she has asked him how thick the frieze he is sculpting is, he answers in Italian (“Alto rilievo”15), Italian being a universal language for all artists since the Quattrocento. In spite of their linguistic limitations, the language allows them to form a radically different community attached to no nation in particular:

  • 16 “Worked (French)—worked (Italian)? […] And what work?—what work? (Italian) What work did you do?” ( (...)

“Travaillé—lavorato?” he cried. “E che lavoro—che lavoro? Quel travail est-ce que vous avez fait?”16 He broke into a mixture of Italian and French, instinctively using a foreign language when he spoke to her. (453)

26They both recognize each other as belonging to the same secret fraternity. Apart from Gudrun, everybody ends up feeling repelled by something that emanates from Loerke. Such an impression is partly related to the fact that he has no roots. He mentions that he was born in Australia, a country of banished criminals, often regarded by the English in those days as the dregs of society. In addition, he belonged to the Polish community there. Proscribed among the proscribed, he is not linked to any properly determined location. Birkin also ventures that the man must be Jewish, thus bringing in all the anti-Semitic clichés related to the myth of the wandering Jew. Nevertheless, it is precisely for this reason that Gudrun feels a kinship with this cynical man who has continually crossed borders and who belongs nowhere. They create a language of their own they can use without the intercession of any translator:

They talked in a mixture of languages. The groundwork was French, in either case. But he ended most of his sentences in a stumble of English and a conclusion of German, she skilfully wove herself to her end in whatever phrase came to her. (453)

27The isolated chalet up in the mountain seems to offer the perfect setting for the creation of a utopia. It seems that national differences can eventually be surmounted to give birth to a new fraternity of humans where all the members acknowledge one another for what they do and not for where they come from.

Decadence of the new aristocracy

28In spite of this, things are not as idyllic as it may seem. At first, foreign words appear as a means to promote education and merit but finally, the weapon ends up turning against those who use it. The example of Hermione shows that foreign languages become a source of evil and corruption when employed as a tool for power. The new aristocracy fails to avoid the errors of the old one. When Mr Crich decides to hire Gudrun in order to teach art to his daughter Winifred, the young woman is confronted by the family’s French governess. The presence of an art teacher represents an infringement on her prerogatives and invitably generates a rivalry. As French was an essential part of upper-class young ladies’ education, there is something implicitly provocative in the way “Mademoiselle” insists on addressing Gudrun in her native language:

  • 17 “Good-day miss,” […] “Winifred does so want to do Bismarck’s portrait—! Oh, but all morning it’s [… (...)

“Winifred veut tant faire le portrait de Bismarck—! Oh, mais toute la matinée c’est—‘We will do Bismarck this morning!’–Bismarck, Bismarck, toujours Bismarck! C’est un lapin, n’est-ce pas, mademoiselle?”
“Oui, c’est un grand lapin blanc et noir. Vous ne l’avez pas vu?”17 said Gudrun in her good, but rather heavy French. (237)

29Gudrun judges the French woman is “insolent,” which implies that she considers the governess as a social inferior. She cannot bear that a domestic should challenge her, forcing her to prove that she is educated and drawing her into a fight in which she can only be beaten. In retaliation, the English woman adopts a false ingenuity to underline the fact that the governess is not aware of the secret she shares with Winifred. She shifts to German as if it were some cryptic language only shared by her and the little girl, who is immensely pleased with the game:

  • 18 “Bismarck […] it’s a mystery” (French), “Bismarck, he is a marvel” (German).

“Miss Brangwen, say that Bismarck is a mystery,” cried Winifred.
“Bismarck, is a mystery, Bismarck, c’est un mystère, der Bismarck, er ist ein Wunder,”18 said Gudrun, in mocking incantation.
“Ja, er ist ein Wunder,” repeated Winifred, with odd seriousness, under which lay a wicked chuckle. (237-238)

30However the governess strikes back proving that she can also speak German and won’t be thwarted so easily:

  • 19 “Yes, he is a marvel,” […]

“Ist er auch ein Wunder?” came the slightly insolent sneering of Mademoiselle.
“Doch!” said Winifred briefly, indifferent.
“Doch ist er nicht ein König. Beesmarck, he was not a king, Winifred, as you have said. He was only—il n’était que chancelier.”19

31From king to chancellor, the governess tries to dismiss a secret which the other two have raised to the status of a wonder and excluded her from. She also takes advantage of the situation to flaunt her knowledge, and tries to get back her authority as a teacher. Yet she is finally defeated because she cannot find terms, either in German or in English, to express her statement thoroughly. The text hints at the French defeat in 1870. At another level though, it is also a bad omen that Mademoiselle should refer to such historical events; the author indirectly conjures up the feelings which nourished the warmongering in the years up to 1914.

32If German is used as a language of culture and refinement by Gudrun when she is in discussion with Loerke—referring to Goethe, Schiller, Feuerbach, Frederick the Great—it can also be a martial language charged with the ambivalent significance of the Wille zur Macht.

33At the end of the novel, the destructive power of foreign languages is completely unleashed. Gudrun, who thinks that Gerald is exploiting her, intends to take advantage of their being out of England to reverse the hierarchy between them (455). To this end Loerke will assist her. She will use their mysterious language to carry out a courtship without obviously doing so. It must be noticed at this point that Lawrence resorts to erotic terms to describe the kind of delight the two artists derive from their macaronic discussions:

She took a peculiar delight in this conversation. It was full of odd, fantastic expression, of double meanings, of evasions, of suggestive vagueness. It was a real physical pleasure to her to make this thread of conversation out of the different-coloured stands of three languages. (453)

  • 20 “Dumb-head” (German).

34Their pleasure is exclusively mental, it relies on the extreme sophistication of their way of communicating. It is a “sentimental,” therefore cerebral pleasure. Putting mental abilities above all things, Gudrun speaks German when she expresses her scorn for Gerald: “Dummkopf”20 (455).

  • 21 It literally means “a small matter,” but it is also used to refer to sex.

35Correspondingly, she also demeans their relationship when calling it a “bagatelle21 (448). The basest erotic connotations of French are brought up. She reduces Gerald to sex and reduces sex to worthlessness. She and Loerke debase the physical side of life in French. When Loerke invites Gudrun to follow him, he insists on keeping their relationship at a mental level:

  • 22 “Love religion […] This love, this kiss […] whether it is or whether it isn’t” (French); “baiser” a (...)

“Paris, no!” he said. “Between the religion d’amour, and the latest ‘ism’ […] No–Paris,” he resumed, “it makes me sick. Pah—l’amour. I detest it. L’amour, l’amore, die Liebe—I detest it in every language. […] As for the other, this amour—” he made a gesture, dashing his hand aside, as if to dash away something troublesome—“it is unimportant, unimportant. Does it matter, whether I drink white wine this evening, or whether I drink nothing? It does not matter, it does not matter. So this love, this amour, this baiser. Yes or no, soit ou soit pas, today, tomorrow, or never, it is all the same, it does not matter—no more than the white wine.”22 (458-459)

  • 23 “Puny” (French).

36Loerke also admits without shame that he is “chétif,”23 using the language of those who judge a man according to his animal functions. Unfit and badly dressed, exclusively cerebral, Loerke finally represents the exact antithesis of Gerald. German, on the contrary, carries along with it all the values which matter to Gudrun and represent her way of freeing herself from any restraint:

At least in Dresden, one will have one’s back to it all. And there will be amusing things to do. It will be amusing to go to these eurythmic displays, and the German opera, the German theatre. […] One will escape from so much, that is the chief thing, escape so much hideous boring repetition of vulgar actions, vulgar phrases, vulgar postures. (464)

37Finally, it is in German that Gudrun strikes the fatal blow at Gerald. While the latter argues with Loerke, instead of taking sides with one of the rivals, Gudrun unexpectedly cries out that she does not want to be called Mrs Crich (449). She states it firstly in German, so loudly that she is heard by all the people around in the Reunionsaal before translating it for the main person concerned. The successive use of the two languages produces a plurality of enunciations resulting in Gerald’s humiliation at various levels. From the point of view of the Germans around them, she is embarrassing Gerald by publicly breaking with him. From her victim’s angle, she is presenting herself as being available to all the men in the room, disregarding his claims. Choosing to speak German, Gudrun has completely isolated her victim and refuses to be associated with him in any manner, denying their common nationality. And because of the highly sophisticated verbal game she has invented with Loerke, she prevents Gerald from finding any way of defending himself:

From their verbal and physical nuances they got the highest satisfaction in the nerves, from a queer interchange of half-suggested ideas, looks, expressions and gestures, which were quite intolerable, though incomprehensible, to Gerald. He had no terms in which to think of their commerce, his terms were much too gross. (448)

  • 24 “That’s sport(ing), of course […] Hurrah for the hero. […] When you’ve (quite) finished!” (French).
  • 25 “I didn’t want it” (German).

38Rendered speechless and considered as a soulless physical man, Gerald is cornered into reacting against such cruelty with physical violence. When he assaults Loerke, the small man uses French as a shield: “C’est le sport sans doute. […] Vive le héros, vive… […] Monsieur! Quand vous aurez fini!”24 (471-472). This time, French is used for its suggestion of chivalric noblesse. The weak and sneaky man wins over the sensual aristocrat. The calculating social climber actually copies the cruel games of the decadent old aristocrats in order to conquer power and drives Gerald to kill himself. The last foreign words emerging from the text are: “Ich habe nicht gewollt,”25 a sentence attributed the Kaiser during World War I (479). Languages, far from engendering hope, actually lead to a war between men resulting in hatred and destruction.

39In spite of the hope raised by the chapter “Continental,” the supranational utopian community fails. Ultimately, the use of foreign languages generates a highly complex web of interactions between characters which finally amount more often to open war than to peace. Foreign words and allusions enable people to debase their adversaries without appearing to do so; it is the product of a great virtuosity in the art of conjugating violence and courtesy, insults and decency. New aristocrats do not need long to fall into the same errors as their decadent predecessors as they draw immense pleasure from the very mind games which kept them excluded before. Lawrence considered that the decay of civilisation came from the perverse deviation of natural functions towards the libidinal excitement found in cerebral activities. His novel illustrates it in the most striking way. The reader may yield in his turn to the venomous charm of such impressive skills and thus discover his own corruption. One can even wonder if Lawrence could really imagine and compose situations and dialogues of that sort without drawing some pleasure out of it. Was he not himself a working-class hero who had managed to climb up the social ladder and had become Lady Ottoline Morrell’s friend through his verbal talent? Moreover, he gave his characters some of the features of his own nature. The humour emerging from certain scenes adds a certain piquancy. The novel leaves us with a peculiar feeling of ambiguity. Has all hope become impossible? Among all these cunning figures, Ursula and Birkin stand out. Ursula is constantly mistrustful about people being too clever while Birkin tries to bring about new values based on the body and the instincts. Seeking refuge from this end-of-the-world atmosphere, the two decide to leave behind them the cold mental North and head for the South more closely rooted to the senses. Will they manage to build the community of the few that Birkin dreams of? This is certainly the question explored in Lawrence’s later novels.

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Works cited

By D.H. Lawrence:

The Complete Poems. Ed. Sola Pinto, W. Roberts. London: Penguin books, 1993.

Phoenix II, Uncollected, Unpublished and Other Prose Works. Ed. W. Roberts et H. T. Moore. New York: Viking Press, 1976.

Women in Love. Ed. D. Farmer, L. Vasey and J. Worthen, annotated by M. Kinkead-Weekes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.

Other Works:

Fernihough, Anne. “Freewomen and Supermen, Aspirations and Limits in Women in Love.études Lawrenciennes. 28, 2003: 77-88.

Feyel, Juliette. “D.H. Lawrence and the Nietzschean Notion of Will to Power.” Études Lawrenciennes. 40, 2010: 69-90.

Floc’h, Sylvain. Women in Love ou le Crépuscule des déesses. Paris: Éditions du temps, 2001.

Gallix, François (ed.). Women in Love. Paris: Ellipses, 2001.

Ingram, Allan. The Language of D.H. Lawrence. London: Macmillan, 1990.

Katz-Roy, Ginette (ed.). Lectures d’une œuvre, Women in Love, Paris: Éditions du Temps, 2001.

Katz-Roy, Ginette. “Women in Love,” Études Lawrenciennes. 4-5, 1989-1990.

Katz-Roy, Ginette. “Women in Love: New Readings,” Études Lawrenciennes. 26/27, 2002.

Milton, Colin. Lawrence and Nietzsche, A Study in Influence. Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1987.

Paccaud-Huguet, Josiane. Women in Love, de la tentation perverse à l’écriture. Grenoble: Ellug, 1991.

Pichardie, Jean-Paul. D.H. Lawrence: La tentation utopique. Rouen: Publications de l’université de Rouen, 1988.

Thatcher, D.S. Nietzsche in England 1890-1914, the Growth of a Reputation. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1970.

Vitoux, Pierre. Women in Love, D.H. Lawrence. Paris: Armand Colin/CNED, 2001.

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1 Colin Milton, 1987.

2 For example “Blessed are the Powerful,” (Phoenix II. 436-443) “Aristocracy” (Ibid. 475-486).

3 “Vehicle for culture” (German).

4 “Of course he understands Italian […] he won’t have forgotten it, Mummy’s language” (Italian).

5 “Look, look at these people! Aren’t they unbelievable owls?” (French)

6 “Rather too many people” (French).

7 “For me, she doesn’t exist” (French).

8 “down-to-earth” (French).

9 “One must respect one’s own follies […] those of the father […] and of the mother […] and of the neighbours” (French).

10 Sylvain Floc’h, 2001.

11 Traditional name for a rooster.

12 Further, Birkin gives an English equivalent: “pure flowers of dark corruption” (173).

13 “living-room […] guest-house […] coffee with ring-shaped cake […] Splendid and wonderful and very beautiful and indescribable!” (German)

14 “the Schuhplatteln, the Tyrolese dance of the clapping hands and tossing the partner in the air at the crisis […]” (410).

15 “In high relief” (Italian).

16 “Worked (French)—worked (Italian)? […] And what work?—what work? (Italian) What work did you do?” (French)

17 “Good-day miss,” […] “Winifred does so want to do Bismarck’s portrait—! Oh, but all morning it’s […] Bismarck, Bismarck, always Bismarck! It’s a rabbit, isn’t it, miss?” “Yes, it’s a big black and white rabbit. Haven’t you seen him?” (French)

18 “Bismarck […] it’s a mystery” (French), “Bismarck, he is a marvel” (German).

19 “Yes, he is a marvel,” […]

“Is he really a marvel?” […]

“Certainly!” […]

“However he isn’t a king (German) […] he was only chancellor” (French).

20 “Dumb-head” (German).

21 It literally means “a small matter,” but it is also used to refer to sex.

22 “Love religion […] This love, this kiss […] whether it is or whether it isn’t” (French); “baiser” as a verb, however, means “to fuck.”

23 “Puny” (French).

24 “That’s sport(ing), of course […] Hurrah for the hero. […] When you’ve (quite) finished!” (French).

25 “I didn’t want it” (German).

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Juliette Feyel, « Twilight of the Aristocrats: Foreign Words in Women in Love »Études Lawrenciennes, 44 | 2013, 205-226.

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Juliette Feyel, « Twilight of the Aristocrats: Foreign Words in Women in Love »Études Lawrenciennes [En ligne], 44 | 2013, mis en ligne le 01 avril 2014, consulté le 09 août 2022. URL : ; DOI :

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Juliette Feyel

Juliette Feyel’s PhD in comparative literature from the University of Paris Ouest Nanterre examined the question of eroticism and the experience of the sacred in the writings of Lawrence and George Bataille. She has published several articles in Etudes lawrenciennes on the relations between Lawrence’s writings the discourses of philosophy and psychoanalysis.

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