D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow was 550 pages. My reaction to the novel for the first 300 pages was the following: terribly boring. Boring in the way that only late 19th/early 20th century novels seem to be able to pull off. I understand that the novels of that time period have their own place in literary history: the beginning of the modern area, a change in narrative style and focus. I’m not criticizing everyone writing during that period – certainly H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker cannot be called boring. But there seems to be a group of these writers that while some people love them, I just find them cumbersome, and Lawrence and (cough cough) Henry James are the most obvious offenders of this time period.
I have only read one other Lawrence work, and that was Sons and Lovers two years ago. When I started The Rainbow, I was trying to remember what I thought of Sons and Lovers, but I remember absolutely nothing about that book. About, oh, 50 pages into The Rainbow, I realized the reason I probably didn’t remember anything from SaL was because it was as boring as The Rainbow.
I found The Rainbow so boring, in fact, that half way through I tried to watch the BBC version hoping it would peak my interest. Maybe something will happen that I can look forward to. I only got through the first two parts, and sent the damn thing back to Netflix. Zzzzzzzzzzzzzz as well.
The Rainbow tells the story of three generations of the Brangwen family. First there is Tom Brangwen, and he marries Lydia, a Polish woman. Lydia has a child, Anna, from a previous marriage. Then Anna grows up and marries Will Brangwen – a cousin. Then they have a bunch of kids, and eventually one of them – Ursula – become to focus of the novel. I said above that I found the first 300 pages terribly boring, which pretty much covers the part up to when Ursula, an older teenager, begins an affair with a *ahem* female instructor at her school (Winifred). The next 250 pages, while not being exactly interesting, are at least less dull than the previous 300 pages.
Lawrence has this reputation of being a “pornographer” (as Jeanette Winterson’s mother would have said), and while I haven’t yet gotten to Lady Chatterley’s Lover, he stuff isn’t all that scandalous by today’s standards. But it's easy to understand why it would have been seen as indecent in 1915. Not only does Ursula have a clearly sexual relationship with another female, she also has a sexual relationship with her boyfriend, and after they break up for a time she thinks that she might be pregnant (but she isn’t). The more subversive part seems to come from Ursula’s attitudes – she has no interest in ever getting married, she pontificates strangely about religion and doesn’t see the point of war. Some have speculated that part of the reason why this novel was the target for the censors was that Lawrence dared to marry a German woman on the eve of World War I, and then publishes a book in which he questions the British reasoning behind colonialism, patriotism, and armed conflict. It might have been a contributing factor, but I suspect it was the lesbianism that really did it (that chapter - Shame - was singled out by the censors). While Lawrence’s reputation as a pornographer is probably unwarranted, he does write with some semblance of truth about relations between men and women, and to some extent does give women a part in that relation besides housewife and mother. By “some semblance of truth” I mean that for a British man in 1915 to write a novel which is largely centered on women, he didn’t do too bad of a job. But it was still boring.
After finishing the novel, I hopped over to Doug Shaw’s page (a fellow ML Top 100 reader), wondering if he’s reviewed this yet. He hasn’t, but he did review the sequel to The Rainbow, Women in Love, which follows Ursula and her sister Gudrun. And his review made me realize something I hadn’t thought about: Ursula thinks she interesting and special, but she really isn’t. And to make it worse, Lawrence seems to think that Ursula is interesting and special as well. So up until that point, I kind of liked Ursula, but now I see through her – thanks to Doug. And the more I think about it, the more she annoys me. At one point in the novel, one of her friends – Maggie – tells her that she requires everyone to love her (or was that just in the movie? I don’t remember!). But it’s true: she doesn’t seem to be able to stand it unless the people around her simply adore her. Yet her feelings don’t seem to run particularly deep. She says she loves people, but the closest she comes to demonstrating it is not wanting them to be possessed by anybody else…a jealousy over the physical aspect of the relationship and nothing more.
Next year I’ll venture back to Lawrence with Women in Love. But seeing Doug’s review, I fear it will just a repeat of The Rainbow – a very long, tedious novel in which not much happens.
See how much fun rainbows really could be? D.H. are you listening?