Chapter XXIII, “Excurse,” in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love is incredibly revealing as it provides insight into Ursula Brangwen’s fiery personality and staunch attitudes toward marriage. The scene in this chapter also illustrates how Rupert Birkin’s desires remain unclear.
Rupert, in an attempt to ask for Ursula’s hand in marriage, gives her three rings wrapped in paper and says, “Look . . . what I bought” (Lawrence 302). When she asks him why he presents her with such gifts, he replies “coolly” that he wanted to do so and offers no further explanation (302). This scene is riddled with imagery that seems to mirror the personalities of these two characters. The fact that Rupert gives Ursula three rings shows how undecided he is. Each ring seems to reflect one of the three people in his life—Ursula, Hermione, and Gerald Crich. The blue ring could represent Hermione, “rose-shaped, beautiful sapphire, with small brilliants” (303). The yellow ring reminds the reader of masculinity, if not specifically Gerald: “a squarish topaz set in a frame of steel, or some other similar material, finely wrought” (303). The ring that symbolizes Ursula is the one she takes a particular liking to—the “round opal, red and fiery, set in a circle of tiny rubies” (303). This ring is the only one that fits Ursula’s fingers, exclusively on her ring finger, which invokes Ursula’s superstition. She believes that opals are unlucky. To this, Rupert replies, “I prefer unlucky things. Luck is vulgar. Who wants what luck would bring? I don’t” (304). If we focus on the imagery, Rupert seems to be saying that he prefers Ursula to Hermione and Gerald, though it is unclear whether or not he means it. Also, the concept of luck used here makes Rupert’s words appear hauntingly foreshadowing.
When Rupert and Ursula begin to argue, the latter starts to show resemblances to her ring. Lawrence’s narrative reinforces this idea through such lines as “Suddenly a flame ran over her” and “Her fury seemed to blaze out and burn [Rupert’s] face” (307). When she throws the rings at Rupert, one hits his face and the others hit his coat before they fall into the mud (309). The narrative does not reveal which of the three rings touches his face, but we can assume that it was the opal because of its previous distinction from the others and the fact that the narrative mentions how Ursula’s anger seemed to “burn his face.” We must also acknowledge that the ring touching Rupert’s face offers a stronger image than the others hitting his coat. Despite any importance one ring might hold over the others, however, they all end up in the dirt, turning beauty into something “dirty and gritty” (309). After they conclude their argument, Ursula “traces with her hands the line of his loins and thighs, at the back, and a living fire ran through her, from him, darkly” (313). As this quotation suggests, the red and fiery opal ultimately manifests itself not only in Ursula’s anger and resentment toward Rupert but also in her love for him and, conversely, his love for her.
Ursula’s fieriness relates to an earlier chapter, “Threshold,” in which Gudrun discusses with Gerald and Rupert how her sister feels about marriage. “I don’t think she wants an engagement,” says Gudrun. “Naturally, she’s a bird that prefers the bush” (289). If Gudrun’s intuition of her sister’s feelings is correct, then the red opal—its color bringing to mind liberation as well as fury and love—is a stark representation of Ursula.
Through this scene in “Excurse,” Lawrence uses these strong ring images and symbols in order to shed light on his characters and, perhaps, create a tension that foreshadows a greater conflict at the end of the novel.
Lawrence, D.H. Women in Love. New York: Penguin, 2007.