The Rainbow: Chapter 15 - Summary and Analysis

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The Bitterness of Ecstasy


      Preparing for College. The Brangwens after having shifted to the new house were trying to settle down. Ursula helped to put the house straight and then she revised some of her studies in preparation for going to college. She had six weeks before she actually went to College. She decided to utilize the time in reading over some Latin and some Botany. She was going to college as a teacher, for her training. But having already taken her matriculation examination, she entered for a university course. At the end of the year she would sit for the Intermediate Arts, then two years after for her B.A. So her case was not that of the ordinary school teacher. She would be working among the private students who came only for pure education, not for mere professional training. She would be of the elect.

      At the College. At the college, she sat listening to the lectures in a spirit of humble receptiveness. Every lecturer stood like a priest, as he stood black gowned on the rostrum. At the end of the first year Ursula got through her Intermediate Art examination and there came a lull in her eager activities. She went out with her family to a sea-side resort and spent hours together by herself standing and watching the sea in its different moods or by the harbor gazing at the mysterious figures of the sailors crowding there.

      Ursula’s Disillusionment. During the second year at college Ursula's disillusionment began and glamour began to depart from the college. The professors no longer appeared to be priests initiated into the deep mysteries of life and knowledge. She now thought of college only as a sham workshop. All the while, it was a sham store, a sham warehouse, with a single motive of material gain, and no productivity. She was once more plunged into a gloom of disillusion.

      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, readymade stuff too and not really worth the money it was intended to fetch; which they all knew. She found a gleam of life and joy in her Botany class where she was fascinated by the strange law of the vegetable world.

      The Return of Anton Skrebensky. Anton Skrebensky returned from the war and came to meet her. She Was all excited and ran to meet him but she was aware of a great difference in him. She immediately felt a strong physical bond with him. Her studies became insignificant to her, and she lived in and through her sensual passion for Skrebensky. But now he was alien to her. He talked but not to her. She tried to speak but could not reach him. He seemed made up of a set of habitual actions and decisions. She could only feel the dark heavy fixity of his animal desire that terrified her with a cold feeling of despair. "She was puzzled, hurl by some hopeless fixity in him that terrified her with a cold feeling of despair. What did he want? His desires were so underground. Why did he not admit himself ? What did he want? He wanted something that should be nameless. She shrank in fear."

      "Yet she flashed with excitement. In his dark subterranean male soul, he was. kneeling before her, darkly exposing himself. She quivered, the dark flame ran over her. He was waiting at her feet. He was helpless at her mercy. She could take or reject. If she rejected him, something would die in him. For him it was life or death. And yet, all must be kept so dark, the consciousness must admit nothing.”

      Skrebensky was in England for six months. He wanted the same iron rigidity, as if the world were made of steel, possess her again. She could see him so well out there in India, one of the old class super-imposed upon an old civilization. He would become again an aristocrat invested with authority and responsibility.

      Love. She knew that their paths were different, and yet she loved him. She was the woman, the whole woman and he the male, and his manly beauty made her proud, she loved his naked body, so beautiful and well formed. "It was like deference to her, and made her feel as if she represented before him all the grace and flower of humanity. She was no longer Ursula Brangwen. She was woman, she was the whole of woman in the human order. All containing, universal, how should she be limited to individuality ?"

      They once went for a walk. They crossed the bridge and went away from the lights. They talked on about their past and he confessed that he was always in love with her. The dark flame leaped up in him. He drew her very close and they went on in silence. He referred to the darkness in Africa, solid and tangible, the very embodiment of fear. Gradually, he transferred to her the hot found darkness that possessed his own blood. He wanted her to answer, to understand. She quivered, taut and vibrating, almost pained. Her limbs were rich and tense. She felt they must be vibrating. She could scarcely walk. He seemed like a living darkness upon her, she was in the embrace of strong darkness. He held her enclosed, soft, unutterably soft, and with the unrelaxing softness of fate. He kissed her and she quivered as if she were being destroyed, shattered. She was all dark, will-less, having only the receptive will. Darkness cleaving to darkness, she hung close to him, pressed herself into soft-flow of his kiss-herself covered and enveloped in the warm fecund flow of his kiss, that flowed over her. It was a bliss.

      During the next weeks, all the time she went about in the same dark richness, her eyes dilated and shining like the eyes of a wild animal. On a dark windy and heavy night, they had come down the lane to the valley near Bend over. They came to a great oak tree and sat down. Then he turned and kissed her and she waited for him. She was caught up and entangled in the vibrations of the night, and the man beside her was a dark, powerful vibration. She passed away as on a dark wind, far, far away, into the pristine darkness of paradise, into the dark fields of immortality.

      They were both absolute and happy and calm. The fact of their own consummate being made everything else so entirely subordinate that they were free. The only thing they wanted, as the days went by, was more time to themselves. They wanted the time to be absolutely their own.

      Skrebensky Thinks of Marriage. Skrebensky realized very soon that they could not go on like that forever and so proposed to Ursula that they should get married at the earliest. "To make public their connection would be to put it in range with all the things which nullified him, and from which he was for the moment entirely dissociated. If he married he would have to assume his social self. And the thought of assuming his social self made him at once diffident and abstract. If she were his social wife, if she were part of that complication of dead reality, then what had his under-life to do with her? One’s social wife was almost a material symbol. Whereas now she was something more vivid to him than anything in conventional life could be. She gave the complete lie to all conventional life, he and she stood together, dark, fluid, infinitely potent, giving the living lie to the dead whole which contained them.’’ But Skrebensky had to face disappointment, when Ursula told him that she would not like to marry him at present.

      Romance. In the Easter holidays, they went to a hotel in Piccadilly as husband and wife, defiant of the ordinary mortal world. Ursula was like Skrebensky's own eyes and his own heart beating to her. Then suddenly, looking at the sunset one day, she wanted to go and they were off in an hour. They went to and she visited Rome on the way back to London. They returned to London, his heart trembling in fear and suspense. He desperately thought of marriage to retain his hold on her and wrote her a letter to this effect after parting from her. She wrote back pleasantly that she loved him very very much, especially his body which was clear and fine and attractive to women. He came again by the end of April and they were engaged. Her final examination would soon be over, and her education would end, and then he thought they would be married.

      They went for long walks together for they still loved each other, but their love itself contained a developing germ of death. After each contact, her anguished desire for him, or for that which she never had from him, was stranger, her lover was more hopeless. After each contact his mad dependence on her was deepened, his hope of standing strong and taking her in his own strength was weakened. One evening they were roaming in the downs, when Ursula took off her clothes and made him take off his and they ran over the smooth, moonlight a long way, more than a mile, naked as the downs themselves. She was conscious of him only as a screen against fear. Even when she took him her eyes were fixed on the stars as if they were lying with her and entering the unfathomable darkness of her womb.

      Ursula's Rejection. Skrebensky asked her again as to when they would get married. To this Ursula said, "I don't think I want to be married." Her reply horrified him, there was a strange look of pain on his face, and he burst out weeping. They took a taxi and came back. They went into a park and she said that he should not have taken this rejection so seriously. "You needn’t mind everything I say so particularly", she added. He was re-assured for the moment. They went into a hotel and made passionate love to each other, they decided that they would get married on the 28th August and leave for India on 5th September.

      Ursula Failure. Ursula failed her degree, but this did not incline her more towards marriage because the thought of Skrebensky and India began to offend her soul. Though both of them continued to love each other and enjoy each other's company as before. Then suddenly from behind the sandhills, a big white moon looked at Ursula and she was frightened.

      The Moon. Ursula was suddenly frightened by the appearance of the big white moon which looked at her from behind the hill. "There was a great whiteness confronting her, the moon was incandescent as a round furnace door, out of which came the high blast of moonlight, over the seaward half of the world, a dazzling terrifying glare of white light. They shrank back for a moment into shadow, uttering a cry. He felt his chest laid bare, where the secret was heavily hidden. He felt himself fusing down to nothingness like a bead that rapidly disappears in an incandescent flame." She gave her breast to the moon, her belly to the flashing, heaving water. He stood behind encompassed, a shadow ever dissolving. She embraced him, and in the glare of the moonlight she seemed to have the strength of destruction. She lay motionless, with wide-open eyes looking at the moon. He came directly to her without preliminaries. It lasted till it was agony to his soul, till he succumbed and gave way as if he were dead. He seemed to swoon and when he came to himself again she found herself as a fixed image in moonlight, the eyes wide open, with tears rolling down her cheeks. He could not linger beside her, for the life of him. He got up and wandered far away from her. Gradually she lifted her dead body and almost dragged herself to her room.

      The Final Break. Ursula packed her bag and put her things and prepared to go when Skrebensky came, she told him that it was all over between them. He looked at her cold and cruel face and knew that she had moved beyond his touch. His will was broken; he was scared, but he clung to the life of his body. He kept himself busy, was always active gay and charming. But he dreaded the darkness and solitude of his bedroom. He had no soul, no background. He never thought of Ursula. In the day he was all right, but he was afraid of the night. He married his colonel’s daughter and left for India quite in time. Ursula was not notified of the event.


      This is an important chapter and it contains a number of love-scenes which are described with all the lyric intensity. Thus bringing out Lawrence's exceptional capability in this field. The love relationship of Ursula and Anton ends up unsuccessfully because of its total physicality. Ursula was not only disillusioned at the school, she is also disillusioned at the college. To her, college appears to be "a sham workshop", a 'sham store', a 'sham warehouse', with a single motive of material gain—a flunky to the god of material success."

      We are also made aware of the hollowness of Skrebensky; not only is he unable to satisfy Ursula but also he is afraid of the emptiness of his own life; he makes a hasty and loveless marriage in order to save face and to fill the gap left by Ursula. Nevertheless, the intensity of Ursula's relationship with him is not easy to accept, since her soul is not in it. Disillusionment seems inevitable, but Ursula's character is not enhanced by what appears to be her selfish physical indulgence at Skrebensky’s expense, for she knows all the time that a full love, and an ultimate union with Skrebensky is not possible.

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