Significance of the Biblical Echoes in The Rainbow

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      The Rainbow a novel which had so much trouble with the censors, is remarkably packed with Biblical references. Though reference to the story of the Flood are the most common, Lawrence ranges over many books of the Bible and appears to be equally familiar with both the Old Testament and the New Testaments. The Bible is certainly his principal source of reference and he uses it directly to enrich his story by simile and comparison and indirectly in many Biblical words or turns of phrase. Ursula ponders over a number of Biblical stories and the whole effect cannot fail to impress the reader with the religious quality of much that Lawrence has to say.

      In fact, when Lawrence chose to call his novel The Rainbow he was endowing it with a rich train of associations, for the rainbow is an evocative image, exciting wonder, a sense of mystery and an apprehension of beauty. Legend has lent to it a mythical and magical significance with stories of the Land. At the end of the Rainbow and tales of bags of gold buried where the rainbow touches the earth. Above all, however, it is the sign of God's promise to Man that life will continue, that 'seedtime and harvest....shall not cease'. It is a symbol of hope that there will be a future, however destructive the past may have been.

      The novel begins with the Brangwen family, the tillers of the soil, and with the cycle of seed time and harvest. The parallel with the Biblical story is quietly asserted, so that when after the birth of his son, Tom feels at odds with his own life and experiences dissatisfaction in his marriage, the reconciliation and harmony which follow are offered to the reader in terms of the rainbow symbol, Tom and Lydia meeting 'to the span of the relationship in the novel, the two together create the rainbow arch; standing apart, each respecting the independent life of the other, the central point of their meeting is one of mutual interdependence under the safety and hope of their love, the child Anna is able to play in freedom and peace'.

      The baby born to Anna is Ursula who is a fulfillment of God’s promise, symbolized by the rainbow, that life will continue. Tom’s death in the flood whilst she is a child and her parent’s failure to realize their own maximum selves leave Ursula to struggle towards redemption alone. She first involves herself in the story of the Flood and the Rainbow when in church as an adolescent, she considers the words of Genesis, Chapter 6 about the 'Sons of God' and the 'daughters of men' and clings to the secret hope, 'the aspiration' that she will eventually marry one of these "Sons of God’. Ursula’s relationship with Skrebensky ends in a fiasco and leaves her completely drained. The rainbow that she sees at this time is the rainbow of the Noahic covenant. So much of the book is in the tone of The Revelation of St. John the Divine, but the ending is truly apocalyptic. Ursula’s rainbow may be compared with that in Revelation 10.1, 'And I saw another mighty angel came down from heaven, clothed with a cloud: and a rainbow was upon his head, and his face was as it were the sun, and his feet as pillows of fire.' This verse follows the vision of the first woe with its locusts like horses and the destruction of the third of mankind. The rainbow is a reminder of God’s original promise to Noah. For Ursula, it opens her eyes to a renewal of beauty and of wonder, to a sense of power outside herself and to the hope for a future with which the novel ends.

      The Church too figures largely in the novel. The first paragraph places Ilkiston Church in a dominating position vis-a-vis the surrounding countryside shows it as a landmark to succeeding generations of Brangwens. Nearer home in the village of Cossethay the little church with its 'mere dozen pew' is a focal point for the life of the community. In mid-century Victorian England regular church-going was a way of life and Cossethay Church, which despite its small size could boast of both a Vicar and a Curate, is the center of both the gossip and the aspirations of the women from the surrounding countryside.

      Will Brangwen on the other hand loves the church with a passion of not the living spiritual mystery but the material fabric of the church building themselves, the architecture, the stonework, the carvings, the stained glass. He loves the outward shows of religion and caring little for the essence of Christianity, he invests these outward shows with the mystic meanings they symbolize. His passion, however, is a cause of rift between Will and Anna. She resents his absorption in the church, finding herself left unsatisfied by the service and the sermons. What Will accepts with simplicity, Anna ridicules and, jealous of the passions that move him, she sets out to destroy it. Yet he resurrects his belief and goes on loving the church 'for what it tries to represent,' rather than ‘for that which it does represent.’

      With Cossethay Church playing such a central role in Will’s life it inevitably also becomes central for his children. From infancy Ursula had played in the church when Will was busy working there, or practicing the organ and as she grows up the Sunday world of church and church services stand apart in the mind from the life of the week day world.

      Without at first realizing it, Skrebensky subtly undermines Ursula’s love of the church. As they drive afterward, Skrebensky, stirred by their experience in the church together, tells her the story of a man in his regiment who always made love to his girlfriend in a comer of Rochester Cathedral. It is a daring story for a young soldier to tell to a sixteen year old girl and it is clear from the tone of his conversation that he is testing her. On another of his early visits, Ursula takes him across the little church of Cossethay; with the afternoon sun shining through the stained glass of the windows it is a beautiful and romantic setting. ‘What a perfect place for a rendezvous’, breathes Skrebensky. His words suggest to her a daring new experience to be gained from the church.

      At the end, when Ursula has her vision of the rainbow, she seems to have transcended the material manifestation of the church with its stone arches and color and the space of heaven.

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