Women in Love is a 1920 novel by English author D.H. Lawrence. The story focuses on two sisters, Gudrun and Ursula Brangwen, and the men they are in relationships with, Gerald Crich and Rupert Birkin. Lawrence, clearly inspired by the aftermath of World War I, uses these two relationships to philosophically investigate both love and death. Ultimately, the relationship between Ursula and Rupert succeeds because they attempt to understand each other on a spiritual level, as opposed to simply being satisfied with a more physical connection, as Gudrun and Gerald are. Gerald is a brutal mine owner who has no qualms about taking advantage of his workers. While Ursula and Birkin are not destructive in practice like Gerald, they also entertain thoughts about apocalyptic destruction. At one point, Ursula asks, “So you’d like everybody in the world destroyed?”, to which Birkin responds, “Yes truly. You yourself, don’t you find it a beautiful clean thought, a world empty of people, just uninterrupted grass, and a hare sitting up?” (Oxford World Classics edition, page 131). At the close of the book, the two English couples vacation in the German Alps, where Ursula and Birkin grow close, but Gerald and Gudrun fight and break up. Ultimately, Gerald, walking alone in the mountains, freezes to death in what is arguably a suicide. I first read this book in my modernist literature class, and we debated what, hypothetically, could possibly come next in Ursula and Birkin’s story after they seemingly ascend to a higher plane.
It struck me, then, that The End: Hamburg 1943 by Hans Erich Nossack could almost be this next step. Obviously, the bombing of Hamburg is apocalyptic in nature. The small, rural cabin which the narrator and his wife Misi vacation in is evocative of the area of rural Germany the two couples visit in Women in Love. On page 12, the narrator of The End: Hamburg 1943 declares, “We all entertained the idea of an apocalypse. The events of our time suggested it. Didn’t that already mean abandoning the past?” At the end of Women in Love, Ursula, too, mentions her desire to abandon her past life. Thus, The End: Hamburg 1943 seems to portray Women in Love‘s “world empty of people”. The Nazis, at least, found a world empty of certain people a “beautiful clean thought”, evident from their racialized notion of lebensraum, or “living space”.