Characterisation in "The Rainbow"

Throughout The Rainbow characters fail to speak their minds, or even fully to understand them. Even as a child, Tom Brangwen "had not the power to controvert even the most stupid argument, so that he was forced to admit things he did not in the least believe. And having admitted them, he did not know whether he believed them or not; he rather thought he did." It is particularly striking that at the novel's outset Lawrence writes that Tom, "loved anyone who could convey enlightenment to him through feeling" because "feeling" almost invariably creates a conflict of confusion for Lawrentian characters, rather than enlightenment. The frustration Tom feels when he tries to read his beloved Shelley himself fills him with "a bursting passion of rage and incompetence," which finds its mirror in his relationship with Lydia, who creates the same irrational bursts of love and hate in him. At the moment of proposal, he feels her kiss to, "beyond all conceiving good it was so good" but this very sense of wonder becomes a source of hate for him precisely because he does not understand it, "and gradually he grew into a raging fury against her... he lay still and wide-eyed with rage, inarticulate, not understanding, but solid with hostility". It often appears that Lawrence is suggesting that character itself is a nebulous concept, and that we are all merely examples of certain universal selves.

Lawrence's conception of people not as individuals but as variations on a universal self finds expression in the fact that history repeats itself with Will and Anna following a pattern set by Tom and Lydia. Their initial love develops into shades of hate and fear after their marriage and Lawrence makes more explicit in this second generation his belief in the power of womanhood. Anna rewrites the Genesis myth when she contemplates Will's wood-carving of Adam and Eve and, "she jeered at the Eve, saying: 'She is like a little marionette. Why is she so small? It is impudence to say that Woman was made out of Man's body when every man is born of woman. What impudence men have, what arrogance!'" Anna herself is living proof of the inadequacy of the patriarchal Genesis myth, for Will is forced to acknowledge that his wife was "everything to him, she was his life and his derivation. He depended on her. If she were taken away he would collapse as a house from which the central pillar is removed." One of the most powerful influences of the novel is that of Anna, great with child, dancing naked in the firelight, in perfect self- sufficiency, "like a full ear of corn", as Will watches in dismay. "He was burned, he could not grasp, he could not understand." Perhaps they are unconscious of feeling it at a certain level, but it seems that Lawrence is describing both Will and Tom Brangwen's fear of female generative power. It is beyond their understanding, and Will is left conceding, "and upon what could he stand, save upon a woman? Was he then like the old man of the seas, impotent to move save upon the back of another life? Was he impotent, or a cripple, or a defective, or a fragment?"


In his "Study of Thomas Hardy" Lawrence describes the aristocracy as the antithesis in every way to bourgeois conformity, claiming that '...the aristocrat alone has occupied a position where he could afford to be, to be himself, to create himself, to live as himself Ursula thinks she can sense in Skrebensky, "the nature of an aristocrat" because, "he was in possession of himself... Other people could not really give him anything nor take anything from him... his soul stood alone". A sense of selves desperately striving to reach their full potential, of ever-broadening horizons, pervades not only Ursula's life but the lives of all three generations of Brangwens, male and female. Not for nothing are two separate chapters titled "The Widening Circle". Tom Brangwen, on comparing his life to that of the mysterious foreigner he meets in Matlock feels like, "a little creature caught in bird-lime", and, after visiting Alfred's mistress like a, "prisoner, sitting safe and easy and unadventurous". Anna in her turn feels, "always belittled, as if never, never could she stretch her length and stride her stride" while Will, "was aware of some limit to himself... of some buds which were not ripe in him, some folded centres of darkness which would never develop and unfold." One should be careful of assuming from these observations that Lawrence saw the aristocracy as untrammelled and free by comparison with the working classes, however, because he saw deep restrictions in the ability of those high in society to stand publicly outside contemporary morality. His influential friends, for example, abandoned him when The Rainbow was charged with obscenity and he demanded, "If all the aristocrats have sold the vital principle of life to the mere current of foul affairs, what good are the aristocrats?"

The Body

"The body's life is the life of sensations and emotions. The body feels real hunger, real thirst, real joy, real anger, real grief... all the emotions belong to the body, and are only recognised by the mind" So

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