I just finished reading The Rainbow. Or rather, rereading it. It’s a particular favorite, a read to relish as it’s emotionally satisfying and poetic. I read it languidly; rather than flip through the storyline, I find myself revisiting certain paragraphs over and over, for the sheer pleasure of the imagery.
In brief, the novel chronicles three generations of the Brangwen family, beginning with the gentleman farmer Tom Brangwen, and concluding with his eldest granddaughter, Ursula. The novel isn’t quite a love story, though love figures prominently. I suggest it’s a story about relationships between men and women, and the fascinating role love has in facilitating self-discovery.
Still, it’s the smaller insights, style, and – most of all – the interesting use of language which I find most compelling.
With bold and unapologetic drama, Lawrence describes the culmination of courtship, eschewing euphemism, describing emotional passion, indecision, human frailty, fear and indecision in a few words, and without condemnation.
She turned into the kitchen, startled out of herself by this invasion from the night. He took off his hat, and came towards her. Then he stood in the light, in his black clothes and his black stock, hat in one hand and yellow flowers in the other. She stood away, at his mercy, snatched out of herself. She did not know him, only she knew he was a man come or her. She could only see the dark-clad man’s figure standing there upon her, and the gripped fist of flowers. She could not see the face and the living eyes.
Too, he describes the angst of adolescence with similar facility, at once detached and strangely intimate.
She became sudden and incalculable. Often she stood at the window, looking out, as if she wanted to go. Sometimes she went, she mixed with people. But always she came home in anger, as if she were diminished, belittled, almost degraded.
One interesting mechanism Lawrence uses is word repetition, particularly in passages describing a character’s inner life. For me this adds a level of emotional intensity, an earnestness which tugs at me.
Away from time, always outside of time! Between east and west, between dawn and sunset, the church lay like a seed in silence, dark before germination, silenced after death. Containing birth and death, potential with all the noise and transition of life, the cathedrak remained hushed, a great, involved seed, whereof the flower would be radiant life inconceivable, but whose beginning and whose end were the circle of silence. Spanned round with the rainbow, the jewelled gloom folded music upon silence, light upon darkness, fecundity upon death as a seed folds leaf upon lead and silence upon the root and the flower, hushing up the secret of all between its parts, the death out of which it fell, the life into which it has dropped, the immortality it involves, and the death it will embrace again.
Finally, I had the pleasure of learning a new word: fecundity.
I have had the pleasure of reading a few other Lawrence novels (including the wildly popular Women in Love and the reportedly autobiographical Sons and Lovers). The Rainbow is my favorite of these.
By today’s standards, The Rainbow doesn’t fall into the category of sexually explicit, as the language is suggestive rather than tawdry. Yet, in the UK was banned as obscene the year it was published (1915). In 1926, the ban was lifted; in the interim, those in the US were free to enjoy this poetic work.