Social Documentation in the Novel The Rainbow

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      The Rainbow focuses its attention on the problem of human relationships, the union of man and woman in love and marriage for their fulfillment. This problem is presented in three different social contexts which relate to three generations of a single-family covering more than sixty years. During which the rural community of the farmers gradually yields place to population of workers and factory hands, especially colliers. Thus, The Rainbow is a great social and spiritual novel. From here we get a clear picture of the life of agriculture in England, especially in the Midland counties. Dr. F.R. Leavis called D.H. Lawrence a great social historian’ says about The Rainbow as 'a study of contemporary civilization'. The novel starts with the life of rural England around 1840, it closely follows the advent of industrialism and its benefits on human civilization. The disintegration of life in the early years of the twentieth century is also studied in the novel. The record of a life of the English Midlands presented by Lawrence is very moving and effective because of the personal background of Lawrence. He was born and bred in the mining town of Eastwood in the country of Nottinghamshire.

The Opening of The Rainbow.

      A brief description of the Marsh Farm situated on the bank of the river Erewash where this river separates Derbyshire from Nottinghamshire has been given by Lawrence in the first chapter. They are the least affected by any sophisticating process and live the life of pure instinct in an intimate relationship with mother earth. They were sturdy farmers, hard-working and economical, rooted firmly in the soil. They went about their duties leisurely as farmers, sowing, reaping and marketing their crops. In the words of Lawrence: "They were fresh, blond, slow-speaking people, revealing themselves plainly, but slowly so that one could watch the change in their eyes from laughter to anger, blue, lit-up laughter, to a hard blue-staring anger." Lawrence gives a further description of the colliers through Ursula when she opens her window and glances beyond her house to the industrial tenement: "She saw the stiffened bodies of the colliers, which seemed already enclosed in the coffin and saw their unchanging eyes, the eyes of those who are buried alive." Their new houses were expressions of corruption, triumphant and unopposed.

The Brangwens.

      The description of the Brangwens has been given as with the heaven and earth teeming around them, they know no want and yet they are by nature thrifty. The Brangwens had lived for generations on the Marsh Farm. They are the 'fresh, blond, slow-speaking people’ whose patrimony is constantly divided from generation to generation between the children. Yet, whilst the Brangwen men toil to preserve the continuity and blood-intimacy of the family, the women look outward to the world beyond Marsh Farm, aspiring towards the spiritual fulfillment and natural superiority with which education and experience endow such men as the Cossethay Vicar and his Curate, or the aristocratic Hardy family at Shelly Hall. So the Brangwens are drawn out of their self-contained life at the Marsh Farm and into the community in time for the first major encroachment of industrial life upon the surrounding countryside, the building of a canal across the farm meadows in 1840. The undifferentiated figures of the early Brangwens help to universalize the chronicle, for the novel is not only a family history but is at the same time a saga of the English Midlands. By following the fortunes of successive generations, it charts the slow absorption of rural and agricultural life into the pattern of industrial England.

      Though the canal helps to isolate Marsh Farm by shutting it off from Ilkeston, it also introduces new possibilities of trade, new routes of communication; it is followed by the expansion of the colliers, and the building of the Midland Railway and the gradual encroachment of the town. (It is the end of an era; the Brangwens feel like 'strangers in their own place', they are no longer merely farmers but must become 'almost trades-men' as well, producing supplies for the nearby town; the peace of the countryside is disturbed by the rhythmic sound of the winding engines from the colliery and the whistle of the trains; where before the church-towpt at Ilkeston stood up in the empty sky, now the machines of the collet; “early visible, beyond them the miners' houses in the valley and further still the 'dim smoking hill of the town.'

The Three Generations of the Brangwens.

      The detailed chronicle of the Brangwen family begins with the Alfred Brangwen in the 1840’s. Married to a woman from Heanor, he has in him the seeds of the genial good humor as well as the brooding intense anger of the later Brangwens. Not significant as an individual, he is the representative father figure of the chronicled history. Father of Tom, grandfather of Will and great-grandfather of Ursula, he bequeaths to his descendants not only the rich earth of Marsh Farm to be tilled for their livelihood, but also the inheritance of a tight-knit family lore and, through his wife, the yearning aspirations which move the succeeding generations. As the genealogy of the Bible family begins with Adam, that of 'The Rainbow' begins with Alfred Brangwen. His youngest son Tom, is educated at the Grammar School, developing in sensitivity but making little progress academically. When he is seventeen his father dies in an accident and Tom is left to carry out at Marsh Farm.

The Life of Tom.

      Tom Brangwen, a representative of the old world follows his instinct rather than his intellect. He attaches great value to traditional pieties and sanctities which is amply brought out in his first sexual experience. After his seduction by a prostitute he is highly ashamed of himself and gets the feeling of violating the supreme position of woman. Hence, his traditional reverence for women is recorded by Lawrence as such: "The thing was something of a shock to him. In the close intimacy of the farm kitchen, the women occupied the supreme position. The men deferred to her in the house, on all household points, on all points of morality and behavior. The woman was the symbol of that further life which comprised religion and love and morality. The men placed in their hands their own conscience, they said to her, 'Be my conscience-keeper, be the angle at the doorway guarding any outgoing and my incoming.' And the woman fulfilled her trust, the men rested implicitly in her, receiving her praise or her blame with pleasure or with anger, rebelling and storming, but never for a moment really escaping in their own souls from her prerogative."

      The chance encounter of Tom at Matlock with a little wizened, middle-aged foreigner gives Tom a sudden insight into an unknown world; this world of gentlemanly courtesy, elegant and gracious good manners which the foreigner "pens up for him remains vividly in his imagination, making him unable to settle back into the dull routine of his own life. Thus he is first attracted towards Lydia because he sees her as the fulfillment of his aspirations. A stranger, self-contained, self-absorbed, she seems to offer him that other life that so far has eluded him.

The Second Generation.

      Life changes substantially by the time we reach the second generation, these people have more complex souls, their reactions and responses are more subtle, the causes of conflict between them are deeper and their frustration is more bitter. A curiously contrived continuity is preserved in the marriage of the second generation, for Tom, through whom the line of descent would appear to be mandatary, is not the physical progenitor of those who follows, though we are told, he never loved his own son as he loved his step-child Anna’. Yet Anna who is, through Tom, an adopted Brangwen becomes a Brangwen again when she marries Will, Tom's nephew. Anna is elated by the unknown quality within Will and feels enriched by it. Emerging from moody adolescence, she is ready for new experiences and with Will 'something strange had entered into her world, something entirely strange and unlike what she knew.'

The Third Generation.

      Ursula is the last of the Brangwens that Lawrence deals with and we enter much more fully into her life. The preceding generations have occupied our interest for considerably half the book; the remainder is given to Ursula. Here the free woman is confronted with an industrial society which is destructive of life, vitality and manliness and her purely physical union with her lover is eventually disenchanting because he has been weakened by his association with the corrupt world. Ursula therefore, can only hope that in the new hope of tomorrow, which is emerging out of the decayed world of today, her destined man will appear and she will recognize him as her mate.

Change in the Attitude to Sex.

      Tom's courtship of Lydia hardly happens on the level of ordinary human contact His intimacy with her progress indirectly, through a conversation with his own servant Tilly, through a brief encounter after church with little Anna, and through the purchase of butter for the Vicar. In his mind however, he has moved slowly but surely towards the decision to marry her.

      On the other hand the courtship of Anna and Will is passionate, but it never achieves the finely strung accord of that of Tom and Lydia. The moonlight stooking scene is indeed both beautiful and loving, but though it ends in Will’s proposal, it shows a couple who are out of step; they finally submit to the passion of the moment, but they meet on no other plane. Their love lacks spirituality and hence, after their marriage when physical desire is partly sated, they have no real point of meeting; they are unable to communicate about the things that matter to them.

      Lastly, Ursula is first attracted to the other sex by Anton Skrebensky for he seems to represent to her the outside world, the 'world of passions and lawlessness' which the sheltered life of the girl makes doubly fascinating. There is very little real love in their early relationship. Ursula is in love not with Skrebensky, but with the part of herself that she sees in him. Skrebensky on the other hand is inflamed to passion by the unthinking and ingenuous sexuality of the girl. During Skrebensky’s absence, whilst he is serving in the Boer War, and whilst Ursula is still at school, she has a brief lesbian affair with one of her school mistresses.

Corruption and Mechanisation.

      By the time we reach the third generation, all traditional values and sanctities have broken down by the increasing mechanization of life. We get Ursula's revolt against materialism, her contempt of democracy which pushes up ugly and greedy people and her hatred of equality based on wealth. "She saw the stiffened bodies of the colliers, which seemed already enclosed in a coffin, she saw their unchanging eyes, the eyes of those who are buried alive." We further get a glimpse of the corrupted industrial town of Wiggiston:

"Ursula looked out of the window and saw the proud, demon-like colliery with her wheels twinkling in the heavens, the formless squalid mass of the town lying aside. It was the squalid heap of the side-shows. The pit was the main show, the raison d’etre of it all."

"How terrible it was! There was a horrible fascination in it-human bodies and lives subjected in slavery to that symmetric monster of the colliery. There was a swooning, perverse satisfaction in it. For a moment she was dizzy."

Change in Education.

      The system of education has also been criticized by Lawrence through Ursula in Women in love. She realizes that she herself is a non-entity and that the whole process of teaching is mechanical: "She could always hear Mr. Brunt, like a machine always in the same hard, high inhuman voice he went on with his teaching, oblivious of everything. And before this inhuman number of children, she was always at bay...It made her feel she could not breathe; she must suffocate: it was so inhuman." We again get the bitterness of Ursula against the mechanical, impersonal, inhuman system of education: "College was barren, cheap, a temple converted to the most vulgar, petty commerce...And barrenly the professors in their gowns offered commercial commodity that could be turned to good account in the examination room ready-made stuff too, and not really worth the money it was intended to fetch".


      The Rainbow is generally considered one of Lawrence’s major achievements, but it is by no means a perfect novel. The novel is not so frankly autobiographical as Sons and Lovers but it takes its setting from the countryside familiar to Lawrence as a boy. In the words of F.R. Leavis, "The wealth of the book in this respect is such as must make it plain to any reader that, as social historian, Lawrence among novelists, is unsurpassed. Actually he is in the strict sense incomparable."

University Questions also can be Answered:

Can D.H. Lawrence’s 'The Rainbow' be rightly called an important social document?
Is it right to say that in The Rainbow, Lawrence traces the gradual decline of the rural community?

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