The Rainbow: Chapter 1 - Summary and Analysis

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How Tom Brangwen Married a Polish Lady


      The Marsh Farm. The vigorous and hard-working yeoman family had lived on the Marsh Farm for generations. This place was situated on the banks of the river Erewash which watered the meadows surrounding it and separated Derbyshire from Nottinghamshire. Two miles away from the Farm was the little country town of Ilkeston where stood a church tower on a hill. In a secluded part of the country, a little distance from the Farm was a village of Cossethay.

      The Brangwens. The Brangwens were fresh, blond, slow-speaking people, clearly reflecting the rise of emotion or change from joy to anger on their faces. Whilst not wealthy, the Brangwens had enough to make them independent. They were hard-working people, multiplying fast, but never lacking confidence. They cultivated the rich farmlands and the menfolk were identified with the natural power and creativity around them. Content with their lot, they lived fully in the activities which wrest their livelihood from the earth. The Brangwen women on the other hand, looked outwards from their own narrow lives, seeing in the local clergymen and the gentle fold at Shelly Hall the fuller life that education and experience bring. Less satisfied than their men, they aspired to something above and beyond them and in yearning towards these aspirations, they became more satisfied.

      Near Cossethay, was the vicar, who also spoke a magic language and had the finer learning, but he moved in a world beyond their kin. It was known that the Vicar physically a weaker man than their husbands, was yet able to dominate them, because of his superior education and experience. It was their education, this higher form of being, that Mrs. Brangwen wished to give her children so that they could live the supreme life on earth.

      There was also Mrs. Hardy, the wife of the Squire who lived at Shelly Hall at Ilkeston. She sometimes came to the Church at Cossethay with her little children. She was fair and delicate. The other women at Cossethay talked eagerly about her husband, her children, her guests, her dress, even of her servants and her housekeeping. Mrs. Hardy was the living dream of their lives. Though they were more fond of Tom Brangwen, and more at ease with him; yet it was the Vicar and Mrs. Hardy who were their ideals.

      The Change with the Industrial Revolution. During the 1840’s the Industrial Revolution began to impinge upon the life of the Brangwens. A canal was constructed across the meadows of the Marsh Farm, connecting the newly opened colliers of the Erewash Valley. The railway ran across the valley bringing the possibility of easier communication between industrial and rural life. The Brangwens were given due compensation because by the building up of the canal, the Marsh Farm was cut off from Ilkeston. Thus, it was in this way, industrialization encroached upon the rural solitude and privacy. The town grew rapidly, and the Brangwens were kept busy producing supplies, and so they grew richer and richer. Although the Marsh Farm remained, remote. and original and somewhat retained its old character, the effect of industrialization was also perceptible in the form of ugly houses that were raising their heads everywhere.

      Alfred Brangwen and Mrs. Brangwen. Alfred Brangwen had wedded a woman from Heanor: a slim, pretty dark woman, quaint in her speech and querulous in her manner. They were two very separate beings, vitally connected, knowing nothing of each other, yet living in their separate ways from one root. The Brangwens had four sons and two daughters. The eldest boy ran away to sea and never came back; the second son, Alfred was sent to school where he made some progress. But he could acquire no proficiency in any other subject except drawing. So he became a draughtsman in a lace factory in Nottingham and settled there. He married the daughter of a Chemist and became somewhat of a snob. He had three children. But when he was a middle-aged man, he ran after strange women, became a follower of forbidden pleasures, and deserted his wife and children without a qualm. The third son Frank, refused from the first to have anything to do with learning. He had always been drawn with the trickle of blood and the sight of someone carrying meat had always fascinated him. So he took over the butchery business of the family. At eighteen he married a little factory girl, a pale, plump, quiet thing who bore him a child every year and made a fool of him. Of the daughters, the elder one, Alice, married a collier and settled at Yorkshire with her younger family. Effie, the younger remained at home.

      Tom Brangwen. The youngest child of the Brangwen's was the favorite of his mother and he was sent to the local Grammar School, but learning was a burden for him; when Tom was seventeen his father died after an accident and the youth was left to run the farm. Six years later when his mother died and when his sister Effie got married, he was left alone at the Marsh Farm except for the serving -woman. He had a strange unsatisfied streak within him which neither drunkenness nor whoring could satisfy and after a brief indulgence in these follies he settled into a steady routine, but still yearned for something beyond.

      Tom Met a Polish Woman. When Tom was twenty-eight a thick-limbed, stiff, fair man, with fresh complexion and blue eyes, he was one day returning home with a bead of seed on a trap driven by his horse. He was suddenly attracted by a woman in black who hastily passed by him as if unwilling to be seen by anybody else. She had heard the cart, and looked up. Her face was pale and clear, with thick dark, eye-brows and a wide mouth. He saw her and forgot the rest of the world. She was the woman he had been looking for, and he must find her out.

      Tom is Attracted by Her. Later, Tom learnt from Tilly, that she was a Polish woman, Lydia Lensky, widow of a doctor, who had come to Cossethay as house keeper to the Vicar. Tom realized that she with her foreign ways and remoteness from the everyday life of the village had a strong attraction for him. She was older than Tom and had a four year old daughter, Anna; slowly and painfully, Tom tried to get to know Lydia, but he always got rebuffed by her air of separateness. After a number of meetings at which both Tom and Lydia feel some magnetic attraction between them, but in which no word of love is spoken, Tom decides that he must marry her.

      Tom Proposes to Lydia. Gradually Tom learnt more about Lydia. She was poor, quite alone and had a hard time in London, both before and after her husband's death. But in Poland, she was a lady, well-born, land owner’s daughter. But her husband had been a brilliant doctor. The fact that he himself was her inferior in almost every way of distinction did not matter to him at all. There was an inner reality, a logic of the soul, which connected her with him. On a cold Marsh evening, dressed in his best clothes and with a bunch of daffodils in his hand, he went up to the vicarage to propose. After a brief hesitation, Lydia accepted and their agreement to marry was followed by an ecstatic and wordless embrace before Tom left for Marsh Farm again.


      The Rainbow, novel begins in a conventional manner and the first chapter sets the scene for the novel both geographically and chronologically and introduces the reader to the Brangwen family. It also prepares the ground for the method of the novel—the exposure of the usually hidden past of the character; Tom Brangwen is seen not only as a small farmer, but also as a man with aspirations beyond himself, a man whose yearnings to fulfill himself, influences his whole character and way of life. His inner soul is exposed through the use of rich symbolism expressed principally through cosmic imagery, through the images of birth, creativity and the natural cycle and through animals.

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