Autobiographical Elements in the Novel The Rainbow

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      According to E. Albert, "The most striking feature of Lawrence's characters is the resemblance they bear to their creator." The novelist's personality is projected through his characters. We have Paul Morel in Sons and Lovers, R.L. Somer in Kangaroo, Birkin in Woman in Love and to some extent Ursula in The Rainbow. However, The Rainbow may be rooted in his personal experience but is the least autobiographical of all his novels. As Middleton Murry describes him, "he was a tortured soul for full forty-five years of his life and his writings are an expression of his inner suffering-frustration and emotional complexes.” As he was highly sensitive, he sought a kind of cathartic effect through his writings because of his intense suffering. If he had not written his personal revelations, then he would have suffered great emotional choking. The problems which have been dealt with in The Rainbow are as that in Sons and Lovers. For instance, in The Rainbow also we have the problem of man-woman relationship, the negative effect of the parental maladjustment on the lives of children, the rural community being effected by rapid industrialization. Unlike in Sons and Lovers, Lawrence can now raise his characters to the universal level as he is no longer haunted by the astonishing memories of his childhood and his adolescence. Thus, Tom and Ursula in The Rainbow present problems pertaining to the whole humanity inspite of their strong individuality.

Countryside Setting.

      The Rainbow may not be so frankly autobiographical but it takes its setting from the countryside familiar to Lawrence as a boy. Though he was born in a mining village, it was small and compact, with a population of no more than three and a half thousand. A stone's throw away from the ugly little house of his first memories the countryside began. Describing this home wrote in his essay, 'Nottingham and the Mining Country':

"A field path came down under a great hawthorn hedge. On the other side was the brook, with the old sheep-bridge going over into the meadows. The hawthorn hedge by the brook had grown, as tall trees, and we used to bathe from there in the dipping-hole, where the sheep was was a curious cross between industrialism and the old agricultural England."

      It is this 'curious cross’ which serves as the setting for The Rainbow. Marsh Farm, like the ‘chambers' farm, the Haggs, remained isolated, yet colliery machinery could be seen in the distance and the sound of the winding engines could be heard. On their visits to the town the farmer and his laborers brushed shoulders with the men from the pits and town and country were frequently united by marriage. The dissolution of the rural community recorded faithfully in the novel went on in the lifetime of Lawrence. As a result of the mechanization of the colliers, we get to see the corruption of the countryside, through the town of Wigginton. Lawrence expresses his own horror at the ugliness and decay of the mechanized town through Ursula.

The Mother-fixation.

      Lawrence himself was a victim of mother-fixation in his own childhood and more so because of his Motlier’s frustration from her marriage with his unrefined and unsophisticated fattier Lawrence himself described the marriage of his parents to Rachael Anand Taylor as 'one carnal bloody fight' and went on to say, "I was born hating my father as early as ever I can remember, I shivered with horror when he touched me. He was very bad before I was born." The close and stifling relationship with his mother, which colored the whole of Lawrence's life until her death, grew out of this early sense of hatred of his father, instilled in the child from birth. The mother took a dominant role in her children’s upbringing, and life in the pits and to aspire to a more genteel, middle-class livelihood. His love for his mother was the most precious part of his life and she was supreme in his affections. After the death of his mother he wrote to Rachael Anand Taylor saying: "Nobody can have the soul of me. My mother has had it, and nobody can have it again. Nobody can come into my very self again, and breathe me like an atmosphere...." As in Sons and Lovers, in The Rainbow, we have the theme of the Oedipus Complex occurring again and again. In the first generation we have Tom Brangwen who suffers with sexual inefficiency because of his mother's fixation. He is unable to find the mother image in the women he comes in contact with. He is filled with shame and misery after the first carnal contact with a loose woman and takes to drinking.

      In the second generation, we see that Will because of his frustration in marriage with his wife, develops an Oedipal relationship with his step-daughter Anna. Unlike the relationship of Paul with his mother in Sons and Lovers, The relationship remains in reasonable limits, and only when Anna declares her intention of marriage with Will that Tom is tortured in his soul and feels sad that the old has to be replaced by youth.

      In the third generation also we see that Anna, who gradually lapses into a 'long trance of complacent child bearing' makes Will on the other hand to continue his struggle against being dominated, against seeing his spirit as subservient. Like Tom he turns to his daughter for affection but, unlike Tom he uses his affection for the realization of his own power. Thus, F.R. Leavis rightly says, "we have only to replace 'he' by 'she' and 'she' by 'he' to know what exactly happened to Lawrence himself. The emotional reality is the same; only it has been veiled and rendered imaginatively."

Discord and Maladjustment.

      Lawrence as a boy had witnessed constant strife among his parents. His father, a handsome and physically attractive man, full of animal vitality, he was uncultivated, ill-educated and a direct contrast to his wife Lydia. She was intelligent, cultured and of a practical turn of mind. The marriage seemed doomed from the start. Mrs. Lawrence soon came to loathe the pitted dirt, her husband's excessive drinking and the fellowships in which she had no part; he in his turn disliked her finicking ways and constant air of superiority, and became as time went on, more rather than less boorish. Yet her influence in the family was more powerful than his and one by one the children turned away from their father. The polarisation between the two partners which is required for a happy married life was lacking between them. This lack of fulfillment is seen in the marriage of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Brangwen who are two distinctively separate beings living together. In the case of Will and Anna also, each tries for mastery over the other. Ultimately in the chapter 'Anna Victrix' she declares herself victorious over her husband. Their maladjustment has a negative influence on the sensitive nature of Ursula. It is through Ursula that Lawrence shows how the female domination tries to destroy male domination.

Love and Hate Relationship.

      The autobiographical element of the novel comes out in other aspects also like Tom marrying Lydia Lensky who is a foreign woman. She is like Frieda whom Lawrence married. Their personal life was also very disturbed; bitter and violent quarrels developed between them; sometimes they were witnessed by their friends who were horrified but helpless.

      Tom and Lydia also love each other but fight frequently only to reconcile later on. Thus, the love and marriage relationship of Tom - Lydia and others in The Rainbow is a direct depiction from the life of the Lawrences.

Lawrence and Ursula.

      Lawrence, a person of strong individuality leaves a strong clear stamp of his nature on his characters. Ursula, the central figure in The Rainbow comes closest to her creator. Lawrence in his childhood was a victim of Oedipus Complex, one can say that he was tied to the apron string of his mother. Ursula also in her childhood cherishes such a love for her father and hates her mother.

      Then, many of the experiences undergone by Ursula were tasted by Lawrence, like Ursula was a school teacher and the bitterness felt by Ursula against the mechanical, impersonal, inhuman system of education must have sprung from the heart of her creator. Again, Ursula's revolt against materialism, her contempt of democracy which pushes up ugly and greedy people and her hatred of equality based on wealth are Lawrence’s.


      Though, many a times the validity of the autobiographical elements in The Rainbow are questioned vitally but Lawrence has successfully interpreted his own experiences imaginatively, but truthfully. It can be said that in this novel, Lawrence has imaginatively treated the facts of life.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Which are the autobiographical elements which are embodied in D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow?
Which qualities of himself does Lawrence reflect through Ursula in The Rainbow?

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