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D. H. Lawrence: The Rainbow

Lawrence originally intended to write a novel called The Sisters but he eventually split this into two novels – this one and Women in Love. This novel was banned for obscenity in 1915. It starts as a family chronicle on the Brangwen family. Tom Brangwen marries a Polish widow who already has a daughter – Anna – by her first marriage. Anna marries Tom’s nephew, Will, and they have a large family, including Ursula and Gudrun whom we shall later meet again in Women in Love. Ursula soon becomes the focal point of the novel and we follow the key events in her early life – the death of her grandfather and her closeness to her grandmother. This produces an interest in her Polish heritage and her interest in the Pole, Anton. Anton leave for the Boer War and, after an intense relationship with Winifred, a schoolmistress, she herself becomes a teacher, against the wishes of her parents. Life isn’t easy but both Ursula and Gudrun are able to pursue their studies. When Anton returns, they renew their relationship but Ursula abruptly breaks it off and Anton marries someone else. The book ends with Ursula recovering from an illness, probably a miscarriage, to see a rainbow which represents for her the earth’s new architecture.

A lot of nonsense has been written about this book. The Oxford Companion to English Literature says it has a sense of a mystic procreative continuity within the”rhythm of eternity” both of the seasons and the Christian year. I confess that I have no idea what that means. Leavis talks of the oneness of life; the separateness and irreducible otherness of lives. I don’t know what it is that persuades apparently intelligent people to talk such rubbish when faced with Lawrence’s writings. What Lawrence does well is to focus on the nature of relationships and how we cope (or don’t cope) with them, how we react to them, what they do to us. And, of course, in Ursula Brangwen here and, particularly, in Women in Love, he creates a character whose intensity of vision and passion matches his own.

Publishing history

First published 1915 by Methuen & Co