Women in Love
26. A Chair
There was a jumble market every Monday afternoon in the old market-place in
town. Ursula and Birkin strayed down there one afternoon. They had been talking
of furniture, and they wanted to see if there was any fragment they would like to
buy, amid the heaps of rubbish collected on the cobble-stones.
The old market-square was not very large, a mere bare patch of granite setts,
usually with a few fruit-stalls under a wall. It was in a poor quarter of the town.
Meagre houses stood down one side, there was a hosiery factory, a great blank
with myriad oblong windows, at the end, a street of little shops with flagstone
pavement down the other side, and, for a crowning monument, the public baths,
of new red brick, with a clock-tower. The people who moved about seemed
stumpy and sordid, the air seemed to smell rather dirty, there was a sense of
many mean streets ramifying off into warrens of meanness. Now and again a
great chocolate-and-yellow tramcar ground round a difficult bend under the
Ursula was superficially thrilled when she found herself out among the common
people, in the jumbled place piled with old bedding, heaps of old iron, shabby
crockery in pale lots, muffled lots of unthinkable clothing. She and Birkin went
unwillingly down the narrow aisle between the rusty wares. He was looking at the
goods, she at the people.
She excitedly watched a young woman, who was going to have a baby, and who
was turning over a mattress and making a young man, down-at-heel and
dejected, feel it also. So secretive and active and anxious the young woman
seemed, so reluctant, slinking, the young man. He was going to marry her
because she was having a child.
When they had felt the mattress, the young woman asked the old man seated on
a stool among his wares, how much it was. He told her, and she turned to the
young man. The latter was ashamed, and selfconscious. He turned his face
away, though he left his body standing there, and muttered aside. And again the
woman anxiously and actively fingered the mattress and added up in her mind
and bargained with the old, unclean man. All the while, the young man stood by,
shamefaced and down-at-heel, submitting.
'Look,' said Birkin, 'there is a pretty chair.'
'Charming!' cried Ursula. 'Oh, charming.'
It was an arm-chair of simple wood, probably birch, but of such fine delicacy of
grace, standing there on the sordid stones, it almost brought tears to the eyes. It
was square in shape, of the purest, slender lines, and four short lines of wood in
the back, that reminded Ursula of harpstrings.
'It was once,' said Birkin, 'gilded---and it had a cane seat. Somebody has nailed
this wooden seat in. Look, here is a trifle of the red that underlay the gilt. The rest
is all black, except where the wood is worn pure and glossy. It is the fine unity of
the lines that is so attractive. Look, how they run and meet and counteract. But of
course the wooden seat is wrong---it destroys the perfect lightness and unity in
tension the cane gave. I like it though--'