The Rainbow: by D. H. Lawrence - Summary and Analysis

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      The Rainbow has been the center of much controversy. The author used it as a lever to bring intelligent consideration of basic human relations into the open, where those relationships could be reviewed in a clear-eyed, objective manner, and in doing so he made use of the sexual aspects of marriage and love. The book is essentially a comparison of the meetings of three successive generations. The book was not well received when it appeared. The author was ostracized and the novel was suppressed for a time by the police. That such a tempest was occasioned by The Rainbow is hard for the reader to understand today, for by present standards the book, can be read and appreciated for what it is, an excellent psychological study. Tom Brangwen was descended from a long line of small landholders who had owned Marsh Farm in Nottinghamshire for many generations. Tom was a man of the soil, living alone on his farm with only an old woman for his company and housekeeper. Then a Polish widow, Lydia Lensky, became the housekeeper of the vicar of the local church. She brought her small daughter, Anna, with her. Within a few months, Tom Brangwen found enough courage to present the widow with a bouquet of daffodils one evening in the vicar’s kitchen and to ask the woman to be his wife.

      Their marriage was a satisfactory one, judged by the standards of the world. Tom was kind to his stepdaughter. Later he had two sons by his wife. But knowing his stepdaughter was easier for him than knowing Lydia. The fact that they were of different nationalities, cultures and even languages kept the couple from ever becoming intellectually intimate with one another. There were times when either one or both felt that the marriage was not what it should be for them, that they were not fulfilling the obligations which their mating had pressed upon them, On one occasion Lydia even suggested to her husband that be needed another woman.

      Little Anna was a haughty young girl who spent many hours imagining herself a great lady or even a queen. In her eighteenth year a nephew of Ton Brangwen came to work in the lace factory in the nearby village of Ilkeston. He was only twenty years old; the Brangwens at Marsh Fann looked after him and made him welcome in their home.

      Anna Lensky and young Will Brangwen fell in love, with a native, touching affection for each other. They soon announced to Tom and Lydia that they wished to be married. Tom leased a home in the village for the young couple and gave them a present of twenty-five hundred pounds so they would not want because of Will’s small salary. The wedding was celebrated with rural pomp and hilarity. After the ceremony the newly-married couple spent two weeks alone in their cottage, ignoring the world and existing only for themselves. Anna was the first to come back to the world of reality. Her decision to give a tea party both bewildered and angered her husband, who had not yet realized that they could not continue to live only for and by themselves. It took him almost a lifetime to come to that realization, shortly after the marriage Anna became pregnant, and the arrival of the child bought to Will the added shock that his wife was - more a mother than she was a married love. Each year a new baby came between Will and Anna. The oldest was Ursula, who was always her father’s favorite. The love which will wish to give his wife was. given to Ursula, for Anna refused to have anything to do with him when she was expecting another child, and she was not satisfied unless she was pregnant.

      In the second year of his marriage, a girl at the theatre and afterward took her out for supper and a walk. After that incident, the intimate life of Will and Anna began to gain in passions intense enough to carry Will through the daytime when he was not necessary to the house until the nighttime when he could rule his wife. Gradually he became fled in his own mind from Anna’s domination.

      Since Ursula was her father’s favorite child, she was sent to high school. That privilege was a rare thing for a girl of her circumstances in the last decade of the nineteenth century. She drank up, knowledge in her study of Latin, French, and algebra. But before she had finished her interest in her studies was shared by her interest in a young man. The son of a Polish friend of her grandmother was introduced into the house, young blood of Anton Skrebensky lieutenant in the British Army. During a month’s leave he fell in love with Ursula, who was already in love with him. On his next leave, however, she drove - him away, with the love offered to him. He became afraid of her because of that love; it was too passive.

      After finishing high school, Ursula took an examination to enter the university. Having passed the examination, she decided to teach school for a time, or she wanted to accumulate money to cany her education without being a burden to her parents. Anna and Will were furious when she broached the subject of leaving home. They compromised with her, however, by securing for her a position in a school in Ilkeston. Ursula spent two friendless, ill-paid and thankless years teaching at the village elementary school. At the end of that time she ‘was more than ready to continue her education. She decided to become a botanist, for in botany she felt he was doing and learning for her things which had an absolute truth.

      Then one day, after the Boer War ended, Ursula received a letter which upset her completely. Anton Skrebensky had written that he wished to see her again while be was in England on leave. Within a week he arrived in Nottingham to visit her at school. Their love returned for each of them with greater intensity than they had known six years before. During the Easter holidays they went away for a week end at a hotel, where they passed as husband and wife. They went to the continent as soon as Ursula had finished classes for the summer. Even then, however, Ursula did not want to marry Slcrebensky; she wanted to return to college to take her degree. But Skrebensky continued to press increasingly for marriage. He wanted Ursula to leave England with him when he returned to service in India.

      Meanwhile, Ursula had so neglected her studies that she failed her final examination for her degree and had to study to take them over again before the summer was finished. When Ursula failed her examinations a second time, Skrebensky urged her to marry him immediately. In India, he insisted, her degree would mean nothing anyway. In the meantime they went to a house party, where they realized that there was something wrong in their mating, that they could not agree enough to make a successful marriage. They left the party separately and a few weeks later Skrebensky was on his way to India as the husband of his regimental commander’s daughter.

      After he had gone, Ursula learned that she was pregnant. Not knowing that he was already married, she wrote to Skrebensky and promised to be a good wife if he still wished to marry her. Before his answer came from India, Ursula contracted pneumonia and lost the child. One day, as she was convalescing, she observed a rainbow in the sky. She hoped that it was the promise of better times to come. (Frank N. Magill)

The Rainbow (1915), a novel by D. H. Lawrence
The Rainbow (1915)

Critical Analysis:

      Lawrence examines basic sexual relationships (normal and otherwise). It also traces the social revolution of the past hundred years. Ursula is the principal character, and her yearning for liberation is the theme of the novel. Ursula is the first modern woman who searches for liberation from the bondage of sex and social constraints. She glimpses the rainbow which is earth's promise of a possible readjustment of human values.

      Lawrence's narrative technique is a combination of the traditional method and symbolic technique. He suggests Ursula's disappointments, disgrace and disgust, and an ultimate glimpse of the promise of a new era through images, symbols, rhythms, and psychological reactions.

      The Rainbow (1915), a novel by D. H. Lawrence was banned upon publication for its alleged immorality. It is a family chronicle of three generations.

      Tom Brangwen and his forbears had long-held Marsh Farm in Nottingham. His marriage to the Polish widow Lydia Lensky introduced a foreign element into an earthy English farm family. Tom's stepdaughter, Anna, marries Tom's nephew Will Brangwen and has numerous children. Her favorite child Ursula was fortunate as a nineteenth-century girl to receive a college education. She has a stormy love affair with Anton Skrebensky, a Polish officer in the British, army. After his departure, Ursula finds herself pregnant, but Anton has married his commander's daughter. Ursula loses the child but during recovery sees the rainbow in the sky. Anna seeks fulfillment in her children. She lives apart from her husband. Ursula seeks release from her drab surroundings. She has several experiences and develops through various frustrations and agonies. She matriculates and struggles for two years as a school teacher. Her school life, college life, and life as a teacher disgust and anguish her. She is sexually frustrated in her relationship with Anton and homo-sexual relationship with her class mistress. She declines to marry Anton seeking something more lasting than sexual attraction. Ursula becomes deliriously ill, after experiencing a symbolic charge of horses while out walking. She appears to suffer a miscarriage, but recovers finally to contemplate through her window a rainbow, "earth's new architecture symbolically sweeping away 'the old, brittle corruption of houses and factories."

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