Simone de Beauvoir’s Critique of D. H. Lawrence’s "Phallic Pride" in "Women in Love"

Term Paper, 2010

11 Pages, Grade: 1,3

Kerstin Köck (Author)


Table of Content:

1. Introduction

2. Definition of the word “Phallus”

3. D. H. Lawrence’s “new philosophy of the relationship between men and women”
3.1 The Completeness of each individual being
3.2 Balance of Powers
3.3 The individuals should cast off themselves

4. Simone de Beauvoir’s critique of D. H. Lawrence’s “Phallic Pride”
4.1 Women are still dominated by men
4.2 Women are still passive
4.3 Women depend on men
4.4 Women are emotional and men are rational
4.5 Women should cast off themselves

5. Conclusion

Works Cited List

1. Introduction:

The novel Women in Love was written by D. H. Lawrence and published in 1921. The book was supposed to be sequel to the novel called The Rainbow. However, both novels were censured in the UK and in France because they were thought to be too sexually explicit.

The book The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir is an analysis of the oppression of women and is regarded a major work of feminist literature. The book was published in 1949 and was highly influential for the revolution of 1968. Simone de Beauvoir is regarded a pioneer of feminism.

In the following term paper I am going to take a closer look at D. H. Lawrence’s novel Women in Love and on his seemingly new “philosophy of the relationship of men and women”. The second part of my paper will deal with Simone de Beauvoir’s critique on D. H. Lawrence “Phallic Pride”. I will also include Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which was published in 1963.

First of all a definition of the word “Phallus” in the literary sense seems to be appropriate.

In her analysis, Beauvoir states that the “Phallus” represents the male’s position of power within a given society and not an anatomic sign for any biological supremacy, as Freud claimed it.

2. Definition of the word “Phallus”:

The word phallus can refer to an erect penis. Any object that symbolically resembles a penis may also be referred to as a phallus. Such symbols often represent the fertility and cultural implications that are associated with the male sexual organ, as well as the male orgasm.

3. D. H. Lawrence’s “new philosophy of the relationship between men and women”:

3.1 The Completeness of each individual being:

In Women in Love, Birkin, one of the protagonists says to his love Ursula that a relationship between man and woman should be like the relationship between two stars. These two stars relate to each other but they do not merge and do not dominate each other. The two human beings in a relationship should live and exist in complete harmony side by side. Birkin’s “concept of” completeness of each individual can be seen on page 233.

The man is pure man, the woman pure woman, they are perfectly polarized. But there is no longer any of the horrible merging, mingling self-abnegation of love. There is only the pure duality of polarization, each one free from any contamination of the other. In each, the individual is primal, sex is subordinate, but perfectly polarized. Each has a single, separate being, with its own laws. The man has his pure freedom, the woman hers.[1]

Later Birkin says that “[o]ne must commit oneself to a conjunction with the other- forever. But this is not selfless – it is a maintaining of the self in mystic balance and integrity – like a star balanced with another star.”[2] Birkin speaks of “two single equal stars balanced in conjunction.”[3] This means that men and women in a relationship should be like two stars that are single but nevertheless equal. It seems as if every person in a relationship should remain an individual and independent.

3.2 Balance of Powers:

Birkin claims that he does not want a power relationship with Ursula. In a relationship no one should dominate the other. This can be seen on page 174 when Birkin tells Ursula what he is expecting from a relationship with her. “What I want is a strange conjunction with you –“he said quietly; “no- meeting and mingling; - you are quite right: - but an equilibrium, a pure balance of two single beings: - as the stars balance each other.”[4] We can see that there is no balance of powers in the relationship between Gerald and Gudrun. Above all, Gerald has a strong will and wants to dominate his surroundings and the women. Gerald’s strong will can be seen on the pages 133/134. When he was riding a mare and had to wait on the crossing to let the approaching train pass. The mare was anxious because of the noise and began to wince away.

However, Gerald pulled her back and held her head to the gate.

The connecting chains were grinding and squeaking as the tension varied, the mare pawed and struck away mechanically now, her terror fulfilled in her, for now the man encompassed her; her paws were blind and pathetic as she beat the air, the man closed round her and brought her down, almost as if she were part of his own physique.”

As we can see from this extract, Gerald has a strong will but in the end it is Gudrun who wins over him as he commits suicide partly because of her. We can also state that Lawrence makes an explicit parallel between a man using an animal and a man using a woman. Each time he is using another being for his own advantage.

However, if we take a closer look at Birkin and Ursula we will see later that they do not have a balanced relationship either.

“Gudrun looked and saw the trickles of blood on the sides of the mare, and she turned white. And then on the very wound the bright spurs came down, pressing relentlessly. The world reeled and passed into nothingness for Gudrun, she could not know any more.

3.3 The individuals should cast off themselves:

Simone de Beauvoir observes that “[d]ie Ansprüche auf Persönlichkeit müssen aufgegeben werden, um die vollkommenste Gemeinsamkeit erreichen zu können.” Birkin tells Ursula on page 173.

I deliver myself over to the unknown, in coming to you, I am without reserves or defences, stripped entirely, into the unknown. Only there needs the pledge between us, that we will both cast off everything, cast off ourselves even, and cease to be, so that that which is perfectly ourselves can take place in us.[5]

In this extract it seems as if both men and women should cast of themselves likewise. However, if we take a closer look at Women in love, we get a different picture of the relationship between man and woman.

The second part of my term paper is about Simone de Beauvoir’s critique of D. H. Lawrence phallic pride. Simone de Beauvoir asks: “Wechselseitiges Sichschenken, wechselseitige Treue: herrscht so wirklich gegenseitige Anerkennung? Keineswegs. Lawrence glaubt leidenschaftlich an die männliche Überlegenheit. Schon der Ausdruck phallische Ehe und die Gleichsetzung von sexuell und phallisch beweisen dies hinlänglich.“[6]

4. Simone de Beauvoir’s critique of D. H. Lawrence’s “Phallic Pride”:

Simone de Beauvoir says that Lawrence has no new philosophy about the relationship between man and woman.

4.1 Women are still dominated by men:

Lawrence’ believes in the superiority of men. Women are still subordinated whereas men are superior. This is expressed through the fact that men have certain privileges. Men are allowed to swim naked in a lake in the middle of the day where everyone can see them whereas women are not granted this freedom. This can be seen when the two Brangwen sisters go for a walk and come to Willey Water. “Suddenly from the boat-house, a white figure ran out, frightening in its swift sharp transit, across the old landing-stage. It launched in a white arc through the air […] a swimmer was making out to space.”[7] Gudrun and Ursula envy the swimmer, who is Gerald Crich. The swimmer has all the happiness and is free “without a bond or connexion anywhere, just himself in the water world.”[8] This shows clearly that men have more rights and liberties than women. Men are independent and whereas a woman always needs the protection of her husband or her father.

Moreover, we can depict in the novel that a woman is still the object, the so-called “other”, whereas a man is the subject. This becomes obvious in Women in love, when Ursula is hit by her father after telling him about getting married.[9] Birkin’s reaction when he hears about the hitting is completely calm. He accepts the fact that a woman is hit by a man as completely normal. “’ I wish there hadn’t been the violence – so much ugliness – but perhaps it was inevitable.”’[10]

4.2 Women are still passive:

In D. H. Lawrence novel Women in Love, the male is portrayed as the active one who does things and acts. On the other hand, the female is passive and does nothing but waits. In the novel, the female protagonist Ursula is described as the following. “She lived a good deal by herself, to herself, working, passing on from day to day, and always thinking, trying to lay hold on life, to grasp it in her understanding. Her active living was suspended […] if only she could break through the last integuments!”[11] We can see that the female protagonist does not live a life of her own at all. She is constantly waiting for something to happen from the outside as she herself is not able to break through the boundaries of her own self. However, the women in Women in Love do not seem to have any other possibility to live their lives. In the beginning of the novel, D. H. Lawrence portrays the two women, Gudrun and Ursula, as sitting in the window-bay of their father’s house in Beldover.[12] Ursula is stitching a piece of embroidery whereas Gudrun is drawing upon a board. These were typical female activities for accomplished young women. Moreover, Ursula has the typical female profession which was common in the 19th century. She is a “class mistress in Willey Green Grammar School.”[13]

Furthermore, this “old-fashioned” cliché of man and women can be seen on page 365. There is the male protagonist Birkin who drives the car when he and Ursula go to Sherwood Forest. It seems completely natural to Ursula to let him drive the car. She is only there to enjoy the landscape and the journey. Moreover, it is him who knows where they are going whereas she is portrayed as the ignorant woman who asks her husband confidently.[14] In the book, The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir writes that “Denken und Handeln haben ihren Ursprung im Phallus. Da er der Frau fehlt, hat sie weder auf das eine noch auf das andere ein Recht.“[15]

Another example of a passive woman and an active man in Women in Love can be seen in Gudrun. Her reaction when informed about Gerald’s death is completely strange and unnatural. She is passive and waits in her room. She does not do anything and she does not even want to see the dead body.

When they brought the body home the next morning, Gudrun was shut up in her room. From her window she saw men coming along with a burden over the snow. She sat still and let the minutes go by. There came a tap at her door. She opened. There stood a woman, saying softly oh far too reverently: ‘They have found him, madam!’[…]Gudrun did not know what so say. What should she say? What should she feel? What should she do? What did they expect of her? She was coldly at a loss. ‘Thank you,’ she said, and she shut the door of her room. The woman went away mortified. Not a word, not a tear – ha! Gudrun was cold, a cold woman[16].

When Birkin arrives, he is the active male who takes care of all the arrangements for the funeral. He is the one who gets in touch with Gerald’s relatives.


[1] David Herbert Lawrence, Women in Love. (London: Penguin, 1996) 233.

[2] David Herbert Lawrence, 179.

[3] David Herbert Lawrence, 178.

[4] David Herbert Lawrence, 174.

[5] David Herbert Lawrence, 173.

[6] Simone de Beauvoir, D as Andere Geschlecht. Sitte und Sexus der Frau. ( Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt, 1998) 279.

[7] David Herbert Lawrence, 61/62.

[8] David Herbert Lawrence, 63.

[9] C. f. David Herbert Lawrence, 415/416.

[10] David Herbert Lawrence, 418.

[11] David Herbert Lawrence, 22.

[12] C. f. David Herbert Lawrence, 19.

[13] David Herbert Lawrence, 21.

[14] C. f. David Herbert Lawrence, 365.

[15] Simone de Beauvoir, 280.

[16] David Herbert Lawrence, 535.

Excerpt out of 11 pages


Simone de Beauvoir’s Critique of D. H. Lawrence’s "Phallic Pride" in "Women in Love"
University of Stuttgart  (Institut für Literaturwissenschaft: Amerikanistik II)
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ISBN (Book)
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Simone de Beauvoir, "The Second Sex", feminism, D. H. Lawrence, Betty Friedan, "The Feminine Mystique", role men women, literary analysis, Women in Love, Phallic Pride
Quote paper
Kerstin Köck (Author), 2010, Simone de Beauvoir’s Critique of D. H. Lawrence’s "Phallic Pride" in "Women in Love", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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