Lawrence's Approach to Characterisation

"In the novel, the characters can do nothing but live. If they keep on being good, according to pattern, or bad according to pattern, or even volatile according to pattern, they cease to live and the novel falls dead. A character in a novel has got to live, or it is nothing."

Lawrence's assertion, from his essay "Why the novel matters", demonstrates his attitude towards character creation, and his rejection of traditional forms of characterisation. He complained in an essay on Poe of, 'these terribly conscious writers who deny the very life that is in them; they want to turn it all into talk, into knowing. And so life, which will not be known, leaves them'. The idea of "life which will not be known" is central to The Rainbow, in which the great fact of existence is mystery which cannot be explained in terms of reason or logic, but flourishes where scientific analysis is least powerful. The Rainbow is concerned with instinctive behaviour, in sexual relationships, in the experience of death, in the impulsive life of animals and nature. Lawrence adhered to a kind of primitivism which enabled him to explore unknown, unconscious modes of being, and he dispensed with character as it is generally conceived, creating in the process what T.S. Eliot has described as the "profoundest research into human nature."

Lawrence's desire was to transcend normal modes of presentation to express emotions as they exist far beneath the surface of gesture. He cannot do without gesture altogether, of course, as evidenced by his descriptions of the infant Anna, with her "wild, fierce hair" and "resentful black eyes", but what interests him most is the personality submerged and never seen, the unconscious mind. Thus, throughout The Rainbow, there is a split between the perceived and the actual at every level. Characters are conscious of saying one thing while thinking another, and of thinking one thing whilst feeling another, for Lawrence is presenting life as he sees it, as an ever-shifting mixture of multiple selves. He explains his attitude towards characterisation explicitly in "Why the Novel matters", writing "once and for all and for ever let us have done with the ugly imperialism of any absolute. There is no absolute good, there is nothing absolutely right. All things flow and change, and even change is not absolute. The whole is a strange assembly of apparently incongruous parts, slipping past one another... In all this change I maintain a certain integrity, but woe betide me if I try to put my finger on it. If I say of myself I am this, I am that! - I turn into a stupid fixed thing, like a lamp post. I shall never know wherein lies my integrity, my individuality, my me. I can never know it. It is useless to talk about my ego. That only means that I have made up an idea of myself, and that I am trying to cut myself out to pattern, which is no good."

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