D.H. Lawrence, an underrated author from the canon of the early 20th century English writers. A most prolific author, who in his short lifespan created numerous works of fiction, critiques, and essays, challenged the industrial and military norms plaguing his lands of northern England, and shred them with his words. Suffered punishment for his courage of transcending the rules, Lawrence’s topics of sexuality, his focus on horrible conditions of the industrial age and the narrow scope of its inhabitants, caused his work, The Rainbow, to suffer backlash and be suppressed by censorship, forever to be rejected and exiled from the country he called home. Lawrence opened the conditions of England to the world, at the expanse of suffering banishment.
The Rainbow a report on family life in rural England, during the early 20th century. A saga that spans three generations of the Lensky women, and, their infiltration of the English household through the bond of the Brangwen linage. Lydia Lensky is the outsider, an educated women fighting the injustices of government from her early beginnings, in country side Poland. Through all her misfortunes, that leave her at the mercy of the world, with a child in tow, she maintains strength and self respect. A wild animal never to be tamed and demanding respect, she captures the attention of Tom Brangwen, a man of a respected hard working well off English family. The first battles of family life as Tom knows them, are staged in this household and are a foreshadowing of future battles to be fought in the lives of the women in her lineage. Eventually leading to Ursula, the perfect storm of strength and determination, unwavering and determined. The Lensky women are vehicles used by D.H. Lawrence to invade the England of his youth, and challenge its conduct, with a fresh perspective and strong determination.
In the underbelly of the book runs the theme of revolt against confinement of the individual soul, held down by the government’s systematic approach toward the improvement of the whole, shackling the individual spirit. The book strives to shed light on the individual struggle to express it self and soar out of the death trap, brought on by the habitual course of life, as encouraged by the masses under the spell of industrialization. The values and principles of the socialist life are exposed then challenged. The whole portrayed as a disgusting entrapment in constant motion never reaching any purpose, lost in the mundane, lost in the filthy smoke of the factories and dark mining coal mines.
“But she must get up again and look down from her foot-hold of sunshine, down and away at the patterned, level earth, with its villages and its smoke and its energy. So shortsighted the train seemed, running to the distance, so terrifying in their littleness the villages, with such pettiness in their activity.
Skrebensky wandered dazed, not knowing where he was or what he was doing with her. All her passion seemed to be to wander up there on the downs, and when she must descend to earth, she was heavy. Up there she was exhilarated and free. (P.438)
The mass portrayed as zombies worried too much about personal status within the whole, always protective of themselves. Never to reveal any human element in their approach to fellow men.
This is sharply portrayed through the conduct teachers have toward the students. In the academic eye (D.H. Lawrence became a teacher himself at an early age) the children are evil vermin that must be beaten into obedience. The rough edges sandpapered to make perfect cylinders that will fit the engines of societal factories. The conduct is perpetuated by the head of the school, Mr.Hardy. A representation of the head of the state, he allows for no feeling or compassion. He is cold as a stone, made clear by his conduct towards all new teachers and students.
“Ursula was rather frightened by his mechanical ignoring of her, and his directness of statement. It was something new to her. She had never been treated like this before, as if she did not count, as if she were addressing a machine.” (P.350)
Mr. Hardy in essence takes all personal conduct out of the children and teachers as well. He will not allow for any freedom of feelings or understanding. Only strict obedience to the systematic whole is respected. The self is beaten out of the teachers and trickles down to the future working class, discouraging self expressions and compassion.
“She must during the next week, watch over her books, and punish any fault. Her soul decided it coldly. Her personal desire was dead for that day at least. She must have nothing more of herself in school. She was to be Standard Five teacher only. That was her duty. In school she was nothing but Standard Five teacher. Ursula Brangwen must be excluded. “
The downfall of Ursula’s predecessors, her mother Ana and Lydia her grandmother, is their need for intimacy and human connection. Excessive lust and sexual intercourse being prohibited in literature, part of a governmental censorship, is the device that Lawrence employs in the story that brings order to the Brangwen household. It’s the underlying dark passion that tames the souls in the night, having a strong and powerful force. No matter how far the souls drift apart during the arguments that inhibit a new and budding household, the sexual passion glues everything back in place. Through it the Lensky lineage is tamed by the Brangwen men, until Ursula arrives – an ungovernable peak of the collision of separate forces. She is the first product of the culmination of Brangwen and Lensky. Too powerful for lust to tame answering to a greater force – the moon, drawing her energy from the natural environment.
“Skrebensky, like a load stone weighed on her, the weight of his presence detained her. She felt the burden of him, the blind, persistent, inert burden. He was inert, and he weighed upon her. She sighed in pain. Oh, for the coolness and entire liberty and brightness of the moon. Oh for the cold liberty to be herself, to do entirely as she liked. She wanted to get right away. She felt like bright metal weighted down by dark, impure magnetism. He was the dross, people were the dross. If she could but get away to the clean free moonlight.” (P.300)
Every great force comes with consequences. Characters must exhibit great strength to draw on such powers and advance societal norms further. The lack of understanding from the surrounding citizens, results in societal punishment, refusing to welcome change and a uprootedness to their beliefs, way of life. Ursula’s consequences are a result of harboring a view of life far too advanced for the current times and executing on them with determination, throwing caution to the wind. Only upon losing everything do question of being too proud and self centeredness trouble her. In the end she is broken and turns the blame inward. She didn’t choose the moon, and perhaps without it she might have fallen prey to lust, might have been conquered through passion, might have led the normal life of rural England, but the world, chose her to lead society further, to establish the foundation for feminist values. It gave her a foundation too strong for temptations of the world to conquer, and left her to suffer the consequences.
In Ursula one sees the embodiment of D.H. Lawrence, a boy from a mining town in England, a teacher in his youth, escaping England’ system of exploitation. The battle within Ursula must have also raged within Lawrence. Unlike Ursula, Lawrence was able to escape the confines of England and spend a life of traveling and writing and chasing his dreams. This didn’t make the burden of expatriation any less severe. His works only widened the distance between the man and home, every page making the welcome less and less. All his works where a direct challenge for change, a change that landed him outside the borders. Hence we are left with a direct caricature of life in England in the early 20th century, that spokes the sharp truth, taking no regard for censorship, while at the same time showing appreciation and finding beauty in all scenes dear to him.