The Rainbow

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The Rainbow




In September 1915, one month after Methuen first published The Rainbow, Scotland Yard confiscated more than one thousand copies of it from the publisher and printer. Later that year the novel was successfully prosecuted for obscenity. Not until 1924 was D. H. Lawrence able to find an American publisher for The Rainbow. Eventually, the work came to be considered one of Lawrence's finest, due especially to its intricate study of the tensions that often exist between men and women. Covering the pre-World War I period from about 1840 to 1905, the novel explores the relationships between three generations in the Brangwen family, describing in the process the emergence of English society from the Victorian period and its entrance into the modern period. Lawrence shows how characters are determined in part by the time and place in which they live, and he also dramatizes how they struggle to reconcile conflicting feelings and impulses. Lawrence shows how feelings cannot be conveyed adequately by conventional language, and his poetic prose style also illustrates the importance of imagery in conveying meaning to the text.


David Herbert Lawrence was born on September 11, 1885, in the mining town of Eastwood in the English Midlands. His parents were John Arthur

Lawrence, a coal miner and the model for Walter Morel in Sons and Lovers (1913), and Lydia Beardsall Lawrence, a former schoolteacher and the model for Gertrude Morel in the same novel. Lawrence grew up in Eastwood and lived there for twenty years. Those years were difficult for him due to health problems that plagued him from birth, impoverished living conditions, and his parents' constant fighting. His autobiographical novel Sons and Lovers chronicles those troubled years along with his intense attachment to his mother and his first romantic involvements. Eastwood and the events of his early life appear in other works as well, including his first novel, The White Peacock (1911), his masterpiece, Women in Love (1920), and his most controversial novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928).

After completing a two-year teacher-training course at University College, Nottingham in 1908, Lawrence began a teaching career at a school in Croydon, a London suburb. During this period, he continued his childhood friendship with Jessie Chambers, who encouraged him to continue writing. She became the model for Miriam in Sons and Lovers.

Lawrence escaped the tedium of teaching by writing and soon had his short story, "Odour of Chrysanthemums," published. A year later, in 1911, his first novel, The White Peacock, was published, followed by The Trespasser, in 1912. That year Lawrence met Frieda Weekley, the German wife of a professor at Nottingham University College and distant cousin of the famous World War I flying ace, Manfred von Richthofen (1882-1918), who was known as the Red Baron. Frieda introduced Lawrence to the writings of German psychologists, including that of Otto Gross, which had an important influence on Lawrence's work.

Frieda left her husband and three children in 1912 and traveled with Lawrence to Europe. Financial problems prompted him to write book reviews and essays while he continued work on his poetry, novels, and short stories. He was not noticed in the literary world until the publication of his third novel, Sons and Lovers, which after negative early reviews for its sexual themes gradually gained acclaim.


  • Ken Russell directed a film version of The Rainbow in 1989, starring British actors Sammi Davis as Ursula, Glenda Jackson as Anna, and Paul McGann as Anton. This version omitted the stories of the first two generations of the Brangwens, focusing on Ursula's coming of age.
  • In 1988, the BBC produced a television version with Imogen Stubbs as Ursula and Martin Wenner as Anton. This version also focused on Ursula's life.

Lawrence and Frieda married in 1914 and moved to the English coast of Cornwall, where Lawrence tried to set up an artist commune. During the next few years, Lawrence worked on The Rainbow (1915) and Women in Love (1920), the novel that cemented his reputation as one of England's finest writers.

When they were forced to leave Cornwall after being suspected of collaborating with a German spy ring, Lawrence and Frieda traveled extensively in Europe and the United States, settling for a time in an artist colony in Taos, New Mexico, where he continued to write. His last novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover, was banned in the United States and England soon after its publication in 1928. On March 2, 1930, Lawrence died in Vence, France, at forty-four after a long battle with tuberculosis.


Chapter I: How Tom Brangwen Married a Polish Lady

The Rainbow opens with a general description of the Marsh Farm in the English Midlands and of the generations of the Brangwens who have lived there. The men were well satisfied on the land, with which they had an intimate connection, but the women "looked out from the heated blind intercourse of farm-life, to the spoken world beyond." The women craved a better life, if not for themselves, then for their children.

The narrative shifts to 1840, when a canal is constructed across the Marsh Farm and soon after, a colliery and the Midland Railway appear. During this period, Alfred Brangwen and his family live on the farm and prosper from the development of the nearby town. Alfred's youngest son Tom becomes the focus of the narrative as he is sent off to school with his mother's hopes of his becoming a gentleman. Without an aptitude for book learning, however, Tom fails miserably at academics.

When his father dies, seventeen-year-old Tom takes over the running of the farm. After he has sex with a prostitute, he becomes confused about his feelings. The experience increases his desire to be with a woman, but the "nice" girls terrify him and the "loose" ones offend him. He begins to drink heavily to escape his constant dreams of women. One day Tom meets a gentleman who inspires in him a curiosity about the outside world.

When Tom is twenty-eight, he meets Lydia Lensky, a Polish widow who has become a housekeeper for the local vicar, and her four-year-old daughter, Anna. He feels "a curious certainty about her, as if she were destined to him." He is attracted to her "fineness," and she, to his directness and confidence. They soon agree to marry.

Chapter II: They Live at the Marsh

The two are nervous about marriage. Each is attracted to the other, but they also feel their foreignness to each other. After they marry, Tom is afraid to give himself to Lydia completely, somehow fearing her power. During their first months together, he vacillates between a fierce desire for her that allows him to give himself up to her and a fear that she might leave him, which fills him with anxiety. He often feels that she intentionally keeps separate from him, which enrages him and prompts his desire to destroy her. Yet eventually they come together, losing themselves in each other.

When Lydia gets pregnant, she withdraws from him again, and Tom spends evenings in the local pub. He also turns to Anna, Lydia's child, with whom he eventually forms a deep bond. Initially, however, Anna resents Tom's intrusion into their lives and rejects him. Gradually, as her mother withdraws further into herself, Anna turns to Tom for comfort and companionship. Lydia becomes depressed during her pregnancy, filled with memories of her first husband's death and the loss of her first two children to diphtheria. Tom comforts the frightened Anna during her mother's labor. Lydia and Tom forge a stronger bond after the birth of their son.

Chapter III: Childhood of Anna Lensky

Though Tom and Lydia have a son, Anna remains his favorite. Tom and Lydia's relationship follows the same pattern of coming together and separating. When he cannot reach her, he drinks more heavily and transfers his attentions to Anna, whom he takes weekly to the cattle market. One evening, however, Lydia confronts Tom, complaining of his distance, and after the two discuss what they need from the other, they are able to unite and find entry "into another circle of existence," a "complete confirmation" into a more satisfying life.

Chapter IV: Girlhood of Anna Brangwen

Prompted by a desire to make her a lady, Tom sends nine-year-old Anna away to school in a nearby town. Anna has a difficult time at school due to her sense of superiority and her need to keep her distance from others. She does, however, form an attachment to her mother's friend, Baron Skrebensky, a Polish exile who is now vicar of a country church in Yorkshire, who represents to her a romantic world of lords and kings.

When she is sent to a young ladies school in Nottingham, Anna determines to adapt to the habits and style of the girls whom she meets there, but she still finds it difficult to establish any friendships and becomes unsure of her sense of herself. She prefers her life at home, where she and her family are "a law to themselves, separate from the world."

When Anna is eighteen, she meets her twenty-year-old cousin Will Brangwen, who has taken a job at a nearby town. After an awkward beginning, they are soon drawn to each other and begin a passionate relationship. Tom, who has become jealous of Anna's attentions to Will, tries to talk them out of marriage, but Anna angrily insists that Tom is not her father and so has no right to deny her, which cuts him deeply. Later, after Tom finally agrees, Anna tries to reestablish a bond with him, but he now feels separate from her. Yet after they marry, Tom enjoys helping the couple set up house.

Chapter V: Wedding at the Marsh

The Brangwen men enjoy their drink at the wedding, especially Tom, who makes a heartfelt toast after the ceremony, extolling the virtues of married life. After Anna and Will retire to their cottage, several of the men, including Tom, sing carols outside their window.

Chapter VI: Anna Victrix

After the wedding, they spend days together, lounging in bed. Anna returns to the world first, which Will resents along with his growing dependence on her. She becomes impatient with his continual need to be with her and so tells him to find something to do. He becomes filled with a dark anger in response and pulls away from her, sometimes treating her cruelly. Other times they come together in a perfect union.

Anna becomes jealous of his love for and attention to the church. When she ridicules his beliefs, trying to force him to find explanations for the rituals, he fails, and so his passion for his religion fades. He hates her for forcing him into this state, and the two engage in frequent, vicious battles of will. He tries to control her actions; she rebels against his authority. Yet after their fights, she fears she will lose him and so comes back to him. They continually move back and forth between union and conflict, yet his dark side is always present. He tries to assume the role of master of the house, but she will not acknowledge him as such, jeering at his attempts, which fills him with black rage.

When Anna becomes pregnant, Tom intervenes and brings the two back together. Their battle of wills, however, continues, and Anna banishes him to another bedroom for a few nights each week so that she can sleep in peace. When they have a girl, Ursula, Will claims the child, but Anna becomes victorious in the sense of her motherhood. She soon is pregnant again, which fills her with an ultimate sense of satisfaction.

Chapter VII: The Cathedral

Anna and Will visit Baron Skrebensky and his new wife and then visit Lincoln Cathedral, a church that meant a great deal to Will when he was a boy. During the visit, Will is caught up in religious ecstasy, renewing his old spiritual passions, while Anna feels only a sense of being closed in, cut off from the world. When she calls attention to the carved gargoyles and what she considers to be their separate, defiant wills, she begins to destroy his "vital illusions," and he becomes disillusioned with the power of the church. He still loves the church as a symbol but is unable to reach the same heights of spiritual ecstasy again.

As Anna becomes lost in the bliss of mothering her child, Will finds a measure of peace in the nearby church, teaching Sunday school and playing the organ. Their relationship continues to be tumultuous.

Chapter VIII: The Child

Ursula and Will form a strong bond, especially when a year later, Anna gives birth to a second child, Gudrun. Anna falls into "a kind of rapture of motherhood" and soon has two more children. Ignored by Anna, Will spends evenings in town. One night, he tries to seduce a young woman, but after some passionate moments, she resists him. When he returns, Anna responds to his new air of confidence, and her passion for him returns. Now with his intimate life fulfilled, Will turns to public life and starts teaching carpentry.

Chapter XI: The Marsh and the Flood

When Ursula is eight, Tom drowns when the canal breaks and floods the farm. He has been out drinking, and when he returns home, he can scarcely walk. When he tries to put the horse up for the night in the shed, he is caught in the rising water and falls, losing consciousness when something strikes his head. After his death, Ursula and Lydia become close as she tells her granddaughter stories of her homeland and of her husband.

Chapter X: The Widening Circle

Ursula feels the burden of watching over her younger siblings. When she is sent to school, she becomes obsessed with becoming a lady. She also develops a passion for the church that is similar to the one her father had.

Chapter XI: First Love

At sixteen, Ursula becomes confused about her feelings toward religion, which pit the material world against the spiritual. In the midst of this confusion, she begins a relationship with Anton Skrebensky, a young solider in the army and son of Baron Skrebensky, which redirects her passions from the spiritual to the physical. She is attracted by his relaxed self-assurance, and they soon become lovers.

During her uncle's wedding, Ursula and Anton have an argument about nationalism, Ursula insisting on the primacy of the individual over the country. Later, when they dance, she feels as if he is weighing her down and runs off to dance under the moon. When they reunite, their passion becomes a battle of wills until Anton reluctantly gives himself up to her. Soon the Boer War breaks out in Africa, and Anton leaves to join the fight.

Chapter XII: Shame

While at school, Ursula forms an attachment with one of the teachers, twenty-eight-year-old Winifred Inger. She is attracted to her beauty as well as her sense of independence. During a swim class, the two caress underwater, and soon after Winifred invites Ursula to tea. After she arrives, she persuades Ursula to go for a swim, and the two naked women share an intimate embrace. They soon become inseparable, and Winifred introduces Ursula to new ideas and philosophies, including those concerning the emerging women's movement.

Ursula's Uncle Tom invites her and Winifred to his home in Yorkshire for a visit. Ursula, whose feelings for her friend are waning, hopes she will marry him. While there, she recognizes the affinity between her uncle and Winifred, determining that they both devote themselves to abstractions—Tom to the industrial machine of the colliery, and Winifred to the cause of womanhood—which repulses her. Winifred and Tom soon marry.

Chapter XIII: The Man's World

At home, Ursula is disgusted by her mother's complacent breeding and determines to follow a nontraditional path. After her father refuses to allow her to take a teaching position on the other side of London, he finds her one in an elementary school in the nearby town. She looks forward to giving "all her great stores of wealth to her children," which "would make them so happy." Yet she finds her hopes dashed on her first day when she meets her "bossy" coworkers and feels shut up in her stuffy classroom jammed full of fifty-five children. Ursula quickly feels out of place and overwhelmed, not knowing how to teach the students.

While Ursula enjoys a sense of independence from her parents when she is paid after her first week, her visions of teaching appreciative students are quickly dashed when she is unable to control the class. Mr. Harby, the superintendent, bullies the children and her, constantly berating her for her poor performance in the classroom. She recognizes that to survive, she must turn the children "into one disciplined, mechanical set, reducing the whole set to an automatic state of obedience and attention." After Mr. Harby's continual humiliation of her in the classroom, Ursula turns on one unruly, smug child and beats him, which in turn, breaks something in her. Yet as a result, she is able to gain control of the children.

She and Maggie, one of the teachers at the school, become friends, which helps Ursula endure the tedium she experiences there. Maggie, who is an active member of the suffragette movement, inspires Ursula's desire for independence. She thinks about Anton but determines that "he had not been strong enough to acknowledge her."

Chapter XIV: The Widening Circle

When Ursula spends a weekend at Maggie's home, Maggie's brother falls in love with Ursula and proposes marriage. Ursula rejects him. Her father soon takes a position as instructor for the County of Nottingham, and the family becomes involved in the bustle of moving. When she is given a going-away present by her colleagues at her elementary school, she softens toward them, including Mr. Harby.

Chapter XV: The Bitterness of Ecstasy

Ursula returns to college and passes her first exams at the end of the year. During her second year at college, the glamour begins to wear off, and she is filled with a sense of disillusionment. Though she has not seen Anton for two years, her thoughts return to him, and she convinces herself that she loves him. When he returns home on leave for six months, they resume their relationship and soon consummate it. They declare their love for each other, and Ursula is caught up in the realization of her sensual nature.

But when he asks her to marry him, she refuses. He later presses her, however, and she finally agrees. During the next few weeks, she begins to drift away from him and the two argue about his nationalistic feelings. She admits that he no longer satisfies her, which enrages him to the point of madness.

Ursula gets the news that she failed her exams and so will not receive her bachelor's degree. She cannot decide whether she should become Anton's wife or a "spinster, school-mistress." She tells a friend that she loves Anton but that she does not care about love and admits that she is confused about what she does care about. Fearing her uncertainty, she determines that she will go through with the marriage, but at the last minute, she backs out. Anton immediately proposes to his colonel's daughter, and the two are married two weeks later before they sail to India.

Chapter XVI: The Rainbow

During the next few weeks, Ursula is filled with apathy. When she discovers that she is pregnant, she writes Anton, asking his forgiveness and agreeing to marry him. She decides that childbearing is the appropriate role for her. One day while walking, a group of horses chase her menacingly as she runs from them. When she returns home, she falls into a feverish state for two weeks and miscarries. She recognizes that she cannot be bound to Anton and soon gets a letter from him informing her that he is married. As she is recovering, she looks out her window and sees a faint vast rainbow in the sky, which fills her with a sense of hope for the future.


Anna Brangwen

As a child, Anna Brangwen exhibits the same kind of foreignness, separateness, and sense of superiority as does her mother, except on the farm. She has an indomitable spirit that she carries over to her adulthood. Her strong sense of independence and desire for freedom emerge when she refuses to allow Will to dominate her. She can also be quite selfish, however, regarding her own needs when she tries to destroy her husband's passionate connection to the church. Anna wants to be the only interest in Will's life, but she then gets irritated when he hovers over her. She devotes herself passionately to childrearing but seems to lose interest in her offspring when they become adolescents.

Gudrun Brangwen

Gudrun Brangwen's character is not well developed, except as a confidant for her sister Ursula. She shows remarkable artistic talent but is shy and withdrawn.

Lydia Brangwen

Will is attracted to Lydia Brangwen's "fineness" and her self-possession before he marries her. After the marriage, her separateness frustrates him when she will not give herself up to him. The deaths of her first husband and especially of her first two children cause a part of her to withdraw into herself. Yet she is generous and needy enough to eventually open up to Tom. Her sense of superiority also causes her to keep herself separate from others. She regarded people she met in Poland as cattle, and the English are too foreign, and so she keeps to herself. Her capacity for love is shown in her attention to her children and in her reaction to Tom's death, which devastates her.

Tom Brangwen

Tom Brangwen, who becomes stepfather to Anna, has a generous and kind nature with a zest for life. Although he sometimes yearns for a life outside the intimate world of the Marsh Farm, he recognizes that he is well suited to his world. Like all the Brangwen men, he tries to exercise his will over his wife, but he is not as insistent as the others. His gentleness and patience eventually win Lydia over, and the two find satisfaction in their marriage.

Tom also shows his generous nature when he accepts Anna as his own child. One of the most moving scenes in the novel occurs when he comforts her when she is terrified by her mother's labor. Later, he puts aside his sorrow over losing her to Will and helps furnish the couple's new home. He shows his loyalty and good sense when he stands by her when she fights with Will but also tries to get her to reconcile with him.

Ursula Brangwen

Ursula Brangwen exhibits the strongest sense of individuality and desire for freedom of all the Brangwens. Ursula shows great tenderness for her sister and love for her father, until she feels that he betrays her trust when he strikes her for misbehavior. She is open to new experiences and initially idealistic about her success with them. In the face of failure, she shows her resilience when she does not become bitter. That same openness saves her from despair after her miscarriage and enables her to focus, with hope, on the future.

Will Brangwen

Will Brangwen has a passionate nature that is revealed in his love for the church and his desire for Anna. Yet when Anna rejects him, the darkness within him surfaces and he becomes filled with rage, which causes him to lash out at her. He also has a strong will, which, coupled with his conventional ideas about sex roles, prompts him to feel that he has the right to demand that Anna obey him. He is initially indifferent to the outside world, but when he is offered a position in Nottingham, he emerges from his interior life and becomes active in the community.

Mr. Harby

Mr. Harby is Ursula's narrow-minded superintendent at the grammar school. His main goal is to have complete control over his staff and over the children. His pettiness is triggered when he is crossed in any way; he retaliates by trying to humiliate the offender. He also exhibits a cruel streak and evil spirit in his dealings with the children.

Winifred Inger

Winifred Inger attracts Ursula with her independent spirit and combination of masculine and feminine qualities. She proves herself to be morally vacant, however, and so makes a good match with Uncle Tom.


Maggie, a young school teacher, befriends Ursula when they both teach at the grammar school. Maggie, who is never developed as a character, is devoted to women's suffrage. She and Ursula drift apart after Ursula rejects her brother's proposal of marriage.

Anton Skrebensky

Anton Skrebensky, the baron's son and a young soldier in the British army, is Ursula's first lover. She is attracted to his confidence but pulls away when he tries to dominate her. He has strong nationalistic feelings, especially about Britain's colonialism, which eventually cause Ursula to reject him as a mate.


  • Read Lawrence's Women in Love and compare its treatment of sexual relationships to those in The Rainbow. Does Lawrence raise any new points about the tensions that arise between men and women? Does Ursula change in her attitude toward male and female roles? Is Gudrun's attitude similar to or different from Ursula's on the subject. Write a comparison and contrast paper on the two novels, focusing on this subject and your answers to these questions.
  • Investigate the English educational system in the beginning of the twentieth century. Look at factors such as class size and the issues of discipline and determine whether Ursula's experiences at her grammar school are realistic. Prepare a PowerPoint demonstration on your findings.
  • Although it does not figure prominently in the novel, British industrialization is an important backdrop, especially in the Ursula chapters, as a representation of destructive power of mechanization. Research the development of industrialization in Great Britain, especially in the area of coal mining, and prepare a report on your findings.
  • Write a poem or short story that focuses on the problematic interaction between a man and a woman.

Baron Skrebensky

Baron Skrebensky, who immigrated from Poland, is Lydia's friend. He is proud of his heritage and so does not assimilate well into the town where he serves as vicar.

Uncle Tom

Tom is detached like his mother but does not have her capacity for love. His elegant exterior hides a corrupt and egocentric nature.



Lawrence mistrusted many institutions, including schools, which he felt were concerned more with the group than the individual. Ursula's traumatic experiences in the grammar school illustrate the problems he faced in the system when he taught for a time after earning his certificate. Ursula enters her classroom with idealistic fervor, certain she will make a positive impact on her students' lives. Her intention is soon thwarted by the reality of the educational system in England at the beginning of the twentieth century that crammed fifty-five students into a classroom in which the primary directive was to control the children as a group.

Ursula finds the structure of her school as rigid and inflexible as the air in the prison-like classroom. Instead of "being the beloved teacher bringing light and joy to her children," Ursula learns that her primary job is to keep order, for "if you can't keep order, what good are you?" She finds that the children have not been addressed as individuals who have independent minds that need nurturing; instead they must be compelled "into one disciplined, mechanical set, reducing the whole set to an automatic state of obedience and attention, and then … commanding their acceptance of various pieces of knowledge." Their teachers have inadvertently trained the children to try to find ways around the system, and when they are caught, they are beaten into submission. Ursula learns to adapt to this atmosphere, but it causes something to break inside her, revealing the damage done not only to the students, but to the faculty who operate in this oppressive atmosphere.


Lawrence also takes a swipe at colonialism through the character of Anton Skrebensky and his interaction with Ursula. When Anton tries to convince Ursula that his position in the military is vital, he insists that he would welcome going to war because he "would be doing something" and that "it's about the most serious business there is." When she presses him about England's presence in India, one of its colonial territories, he argues that the army needs "to back up" the British who want to live there because they represent the nation. Ursula insists on viewing the British as individuals not as a nation, asserting people's right to act independently.

Lawrence believed that the primary goal behind nationalism was materialism rather than any noble ideal to civilize underdeveloped lands. Therefore the good of the community becomes "a formula lacking in all inspiration or value to the average intelligence." Thus the "‘common good’ becomes a general nuisance, representing the vulgar, conservative materialism at a low level." This is the general conclusion Ursula comes to about the army's goal in India, a cause to which Anton has devoted himself.

When she encourages him to define his nationalistic feelings, he admits, "I belong to the nation and must do my duty by the nation." His response betrays his inability to find an authentic self, which Ursula notes when she tells him, "it seems to me … as if you weren't anybody—as if there weren't anybody there…. You seem like nothing to me." Ultimately, Ursula rejects him because he cannot separate himself from the group and establish a separate sense of self.


Recurrent Motifs

Lawrence employs recurrent motifs in the novel that help link the Brangwen generations and reinforce its main themes. Motifs are details, objects, or phrases that recur throughout the work and add cohesion and thematic emphasis. The canal that cuts across Marsh Farm at the opening of the novel signals the beginning of the industrial age in the previously undisturbed, pastoral Midlands, which becomes part of the world that Ursula rejects in the closing chapters of the novel. The canal also represents the sense of separation that all three generations experience, especially in their sexual relationships. Sometimes the main characters strive to maintain a separation between themselves and their spouses or lovers; at other times, they feel an overpowering need to join together in pursuit of a perfect union. In his narration of the dual nature of separation, signified by the canal, Lawrence highlights the often warring impulses that emerge in sexual relationships.

The rainbow, which Lawrence chose as the title of the novel as well as the dominant image at its close, appears in symbolic form earlier in the novel, first as a doorway that Tom and Lydia walk through, signaling their passage to a more settled union, as "she was the doorway to him, he to her." The doorway becomes a clearer symbol of the rainbow at the end of the Anna Victrix chapter, when Anna's doors opens "under the arch of the rainbow." Here the rainbow suggests Anna's passage into the complete satisfaction of motherhood. Its final appearance comes at the end of the novel as Ursula recovers from her miscarriage. Here the rainbow becomes her ambiguous but hopeful vision of the future, unencumbered by the traditional roles of wife and mother, as she is ready to find satisfaction in whichever direction she chooses. These three visions of the rainbow reveal different stages in the characters' lives and provide images of fulfillment for them.


  • Early 1900s: The New Woman becomes a label for those women who challenge gender-specific notions that limit female participation in the workplace or any other position beyond the traditional one of wife and mother. The New Woman is perceived to be a threat to the established social organization and to the patriarchal arrangement of the family.

    Today: Women have the opportunity to work inside or outside the home or both. However, those who choose to have children and a career face difficult time management problems due to often inflexible work and promotion schedules.

  • Early 1900s: Modernist writers during this period reflect Britain's growing sense of disillusionment with the tenets of Christianity. Many question the existence of God.

    Today: Britain's population has grown increasingly secular in the past one hundred years; many church buildings are razed or sold for other uses because congregations are so small they cannot maintain them.

  • Early 1900s: The Boer War, beginning in 1899 and lasting until 1902, is fought between the British Empire and two independent African republics: the Orange Free State and the South African Republic (Transvaal Republic). The republics are destroyed after they surrender to Britain.

    Today: The war with Iraq, which begins with the U.S.-led invasion of the country in 2003, evolves into a civil conflict between two main groups, the Sunni and Shia Iraqis. More than 3,000 U.S. troops and an estimated 650,000 Iraqis are killed, along with casualties among other groups.



This term, associated with an important artistic movement that emerged at the beginning of the twentieth century, was reflected in Western literature, painting, music, and architecture. The modernist period in Britain reached its peak in the second and third decades and in the United States in the 1920s. Modernist British and American literature reflected the growing sense of disillusionment with traditional social, political, and religious doctrines during this period.

This age of confusion, redefinition, and experimentation, in large measure propelled by the disillusionment caused by World War I, produced one of the most fruitful periods in British letters. Writers such as D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, and James Joyce helped create a new form of literature that repudiated traditional literary conventions. Prior to the twentieth century, writers structured their works to reflect their belief in the stability of character and the intelligibility of experience. Traditionally, novels, stories, and poetry ended with a clear sense of closure as conflicts were resolved and characters gained knowledge about themselves and their world. Modernist authors challenged these assumptions as they expanded the genre's traditional form to accommodate their characters' questions about the individual's place in the world.

The characters in works by these authors reflect their authors' growing sense of disillusionment along with new ideas in psychology, anthropology, and philosophy that became popular in the early part of the century. Freudianism, for example, began to be studied by these writers, as they explored the psychology of their characters and recorded their subjective points of view. Lawrence's works focus on the tensions between men and women against a backdrop of social and political upheaval.

The New Woman

In the last half of the nineteenth century, cracks began to appear in the Victorians' seemingly stable universe. In 1859, Charles Darwin's Origin of Species heightened ongoing debates on religious ideology and the development of human beings. In 1867, Karl Marx published the first volume of Das Kapital, which challenges notions of class structure and the economics involved. These men of ideas inspired Victorians to question accepted morality and faith in the age in which they lived. During this period, feminist thinkers contributed to the erosion of traditional social mores as they engaged in a rigorous investigation of female identity as it related to all aspects of a woman's life. Any woman who questioned traditional female roles was tagged a New Woman, a term attributed to novelist Sarah Grand, whose 1894 article in the North American Review identified an emergent group of women. John Stuart Mill's essay The Subjection of Women and such plays as George Bernard Shaw's Mrs. Warren's Profession helped make a case for gender equity in education, the workforce, and in the franchise. Some legislations passed by Parliament, for example, the Married Woman's Property Law, also empowered women and heralded a new age.

Mill equated the institution of marriage to the institution of slavery. He rejected the notion that motherhood should be the ultimate goal for all women and argued that social convention norms do not reflect innate ability. Mill argued both in his essays and in the House of Commons for the perfect equality between men and women in all social matters. Lawrence's works enter into this dialogue, exploring a woman's place inside and outside the traditional courtship and marriage plots repeatedly enacted in Victorian novels.


In 1915, shortly after the British publication of The Rainbow, the novel was successfully prosecuted for obscenity. Evaluating the initial response, many scholars have come to believe that it was censored because of Lawrence's antiwar stance and his wife Frieda's German heritage. The 1924 American edition of The Rainbow fared better; however, many early reviews were negative, focusing on what readers claimed was its shocking sexuality and promotion of lewd behavior. After Lawrence's death in 1930, opinions about the novel began to turn, aided by positive assessments from E. M. Forster and Arnold Bennett. The novel came to be considered one of Lawrence's finest.

Many early reviews of the novel were negative, due to its unusual style and its focus on sexuality. Perhaps one of the more generous was penned by J. C. Squire in a 1915 review of the book for the New Statesman. Squire claims: "Its author has a strain of genius, but in this novel he is at his worst. It is a dull and monotonous book which broods gloomily over the physical reactions of sex in a way so persistent that one wonders whether the author is under the spell of German psychologists." Squire insists that he does not agree with the court's decision to censure the novel, but he finds the focus on sexuality disturbing, claiming that it becomes "so tedious that a perusal of it might send Casanova himself into a monastery, if he did not go to sleep before his revulsion against sex was complete."

A much later but still negative assessment is given by Kingsley Widmer in his article on Lawrence for the Dictionary of Literary Biography. Widmer also finds fault with the novel's focus on sexuality, writing, "The direction of The Rainbow may be summarized as an erratically desperate effort to sanctify the erotic in an increasingly anomic society." He adds that it fails "because of bad writing, indifferent dramatization, and fervent inchoherences." Widmer does, however, admit to "its provocative ideas, powerful moments, and intriguing issues." The few scenes he finds effective include Tom's comforting of Anna in the barn while Lydia is in labor and Tom's drunken speech about marriage after Anna's wedding.

Widmer's assessment, however, is not typical of contemporary evaluations of the novel. Paul Rosenzweig, in an article on the book for The D. H. Lawrence Review, writes that "Both the pioneering sense of character in The Rainbow and its intricacy of form organic to such characterization are now largely appreciated." He finds the novel to be "Lawrence's most carefully written and most revised work" and notes that "the intricate structure of the novel as a whole has [also] been increasingly appreciated." Rosenzweig argues that the first part "has a rhythmic beauty in its characterization and structure" and finds a "thematic appropriateness of the structural split" between the narratives of the first two generations of the Brangwen family and the third. "The subsequent changes in the form and characterization" of the second half, he insists, fit harmoniously with the first.

In his article comparing the novel to a film version, G. B. Crump writes, "Lawrence's Rainbow may be his most controlled yet fully realized and satisfying work." He states that this "remarkable act of imagination" is "a pivotal work" in the author's career. Crump claims that Ursula's story becomes "a vivid, complex female bildungsroman" and that "The harrowing depiction of her experiences at the Brinsley Street School … ought to be required reading for every prospective teacher." He praises "the extraordinary connectedness of Lawrence's universe," concluding that the central theme, "humanity's fortunate fall from instinctive being into spiritualized mental consciousness" is displayed in "the widening circle structure of the narrative" of the three generations. Crump also praises Lawrence's characterizations, especially those of Tom and Lydia, whom he depicts "with a passionate concreteness and immediacy unmatched almost anywhere in his work." This assessment reflects late twentieth-century appreciation of Lawrence's work in general and this novel in particular.


  • Lawrence's Women in Love (1920), considered as the sequel to The Rainbow, chronicles Ursula's and Gudren's often troubled relationships with men as they struggle to find a sense of individuality within those relationships.
  • Lawrence's most controversial novel, Lady Chatterley's Lover (1928), focuses on the stagnant marriage of an upper-class couple and explores the consequences of infidelity.
  • The Awakening, published in 1899, is Kate Chopin's novel of a young woman who seeks to reconcile the roles of artist and wife and inevitably suffers the consequences of trying to establish her independence.
  • In the play A Doll's House (1879), Henrik Ibsen examines the childlike role of a nineteenth-century wife and mother and the disastrous effects the limitations of that role have on her marriage. A Doll's House is available in a 2004 edition from Kessinger Publishing.
  • Kate Millet's Sexual Politics (1969) studies the history and dynamics of feminism.


Wendy Perkins

Perkins is a professor of twentieth-century American and British literature and film. In this essay, she considers how the search for identity triggers tensions in sexual relationships.

In much of his work, D. H. Lawrence examines and illuminates the psychological forces that create conflict between men and women. In one of his most celebrated novels, The Rainbow, the already complicated interchanges between men and women are exacerbated by the need for individual fulfillment. The three generations of the Brangwen family struggle to define themselves as individuals and as part of a union with a sexual partner. The process of discovering their own needs involves complex questions of self-definition and redefinition. Through contact with their spouses and lovers, they reevaluate gender roles, raising questions regarding contradictory desires to dominate, to submit, and to gain equality. They also raise questions about the links between these desires and human sexuality.

The characters' exploration of different routes to self-knowledge—isolation, male/female relationships, female/female relationships, and relationships with community—uncover traditional roles as well as such marginalized identities as the liberated woman and the lesbian. In The Rainbow, Lawrence traces the chronological development of his characters' growing awareness of themselves and their relation to their world. One of the focal points in the progression of the generations is the woman's need for a separate identity countered by the man's increasing will to control her.

The unnamed Brangwen men and women who open the novel share a "blood-intimacy" with the land. The men's vision of themselves rests on this intimacy and so they are content. The women, though, are not satisfied with defining themselves exclusively in a physical sense and thus "[look] out from the heated, blind intercourse of farm-life, to the spoken world beyond" and "[strain] to listen." They, however, are ultimately restricted by convention to their lives on the farm.

Lydia Brangwen, with her foreignness and sense of detachment, encourages the drive for independence and a connection to the outer world in her female offspring. She tries to resist Tom's insistence that she lose herself to him in a marital union so that she can maintain her sense of separateness and her Polish heritage and thus a sense of self. Ultimately, however, she cannot ignore the blood-intimacy that connected previous generations of Brangwen men and women.

Lawrence insisted that this desire for blood-intimacy with a mate was an integral part of the self and therefore should not be denied. In a June 2, 1914, letter to his friend, A. W. McLeod (as quoted in Jack F. Stewart's "Dialectics of Knowing in Women in Love"), Lawrence writes that "the source of all life and knowledge is in man and woman, and the source of all living is in the interchange and the meeting and mingling of these two: man-life and woman-life, man-knowledge and woman-knowledge, man-being and woman-being." After they establish intimate unions, characters in the novel come to recognize their mates as a part of themselves. Yet since the self in this sense can be known only in relation to the other, knowledge of self can never be complete or absolute.

The problem of maintaining a sense of self separate from the self that merges with the other during sexual union becomes more complicated for Anna Brangwen when she marries Will, who tries to force her to define herself exclusively by his terms. The two share a satisfying sexual intimacy, but when Anna turns outside their relationship in an effort to complete her identity, her husband, who is aptly named, tries to exert his will upon her. "His hovering near her, wanting her to be with him … irritated her beyond bearing" and so she turns to domestic concerns that do not involve him. When Will tries to interfere, Anna angrily insists, "you're not going to stop me doing it." He however "seemed to expect her to be part of himself, the extension of his will," and so he tries to "[assert] his position as captain of the ship." When Anna refuses to recognize him in this role, he seethes and withdraws from her.

Although a new, more independent woman began to emerge at the close of the nineteenth century, Anna chooses the traditional route, motherhood, as a way of defining herself. Her maternal role fulfills her completely as it allows her to maintain a sexual relationship with Will as well as an independent self as mother. Eventually, her husband is able to relax his will to dominate her, and the two enjoy a more harmonious balance, although this balance is never consistent as they struggle to find identity inside and outside their marriage.

As Ursula tries to define herself and find a fulfilling life, she tries different roles and tests various relationship, none of which satisfies her. Initially, she finds a sense of completion when she and Anton consummate their relationship, but she recognizes that it is "limited and so defined against him." When she feels "the weight of him sinking, settling upon her, overcoming her life and energy," she resists the urge to give herself completely to him. In response, Anton tries to "exert all his power over her." He determines that "if he could only set a bond round her and compel her … Then he would have her, he would enjoy her…. when she was caught."

While Anton is called away by his army duties, Ursula is free to explore a separate life, one that tests traditional notions of a woman's role. First, she becomes involved in an intimate relationship with Winifred Ingar, but that ends when she rejects Winifred's inability to act in an authentic manner. Insisting "on the right of women to take equal place with men in the field of action and work," Ursula then enters into "the man's world" of employment, rejecting the "herded domesticity" and complacency of her mother's "breeding." That avenue fails as well, however, when Ursula discovers that in order to be a successful teacher, she must suppress her individuality to the demands of the educational system.

Unable to find fulfillment in the outer world, Ursula turns again to Anton and agrees to marry him. After learning of his devotion to British colonialism, "her soul began to run by itself," and she tells him, "I'm against you, and all your cold, dead things." By the end of the novel, Ursula is alone, having rejected Anton's overpowering masculinity, as symbolized by the horses that threaten her in the closing scenes, and having miscarried.

Lawrence leaves his ending, along with Ursula's fate, unresolved, refusing to offer a solution to the warring impulses of the conscious and physical selves. Ursula's own understanding of her needs is left incomplete since these tensions cannot be resolved. Yet Lawrence's refusal to privilege one option over another for her suggests multiple possibilities, as reflected in the optimistic symbol of the rainbow at the end of the novel. With this closing image, Lawrence gives Ursula, as well as his readers, the hope that the quest for an authentic self may be achieved by finding an ultimate balance between the need to establish a sense of independence and the instinctive desire to experience a blood-intimacy with a sexual partner, if not permanently, than at least in fleeting moments of unity.

Source: Wendy Perkins, Critical Essay on The Rainbow, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2008.

Kingsley Widmer

In the following excerpt, Widmer gives a critical analysis of Lawrence's work.

One of the most widely discussed and renowned twentieth-century authors, D. H. Lawrence remains intriguing and problematic in terms of his biography, his writings, and his prophetic role. In his relatively short life, he was a prolific author of fictions, poetry, travel essays, speculative polemics, and other works. His writing, it is widely agreed, ranges from extremely good to extremely bad. He was, and continues to be, a provocative figure.

Lawrence's origins were unusual for a British writer of his time. Born into the working class in the industrial Midlands—his father was a lifelong coal miner—he was as a boy frail, hypersensitive, and bright. Physically and psychologically marred by his restricted background and by parental conflict, he gradually rebelled. In a strongly class conscious society, the working-class youth became a school-teacher and an aspiring writer. By his middle twenties he had been published and critically recognized as a lyric poet and prose fictionist. He soon abandoned teaching, middle-class aspirations, and the social-sexual decorums of his time. In a famous love affair, he fled to the Continent with another man's wife. Most of Lawrence's remaining years until his death in his early forties were marked by frequent travel, a socially marginal lifestyle, grave illness, and intense art and argument. Declassed and deracinated, he had become something of a bohemian-artist cynosure and an obsessive sexual and social critic-prophet against his times.

Much of Lawrence's writing is autobiographical, though some of his best works are not directly so. One of his earliest stories, "The White Stocking" (originally written about 1907 and revised for his first story collection, The Prussian Officer and Other Stories, 1914), shows some of his significant powers. This tale about a young lower-middle-class married couple probes, in a heightened realist manner, some of the emotional extremity underlying even a positive relationship. Though loving her young man, the young woman has erotically played with her sexually predatory middle-aged factory boss before her marriage—"perverse desire." He had once pocketed at a party a white stocking she had "mistakenly" taken with her for a handkerchief, a metaphor for her sexual flaunting. After her marriage, the roué sends her a gift on Valentine's Day, which she keeps secret from her husband. However, when she receives another the following year, she flauntingly confesses the gifts to her sedate husband. Enraged, he strikes her in "his lust to see her bleed, to break and destroy her." Chastened, she returns the roué's gifts, and she and her husband renew their tender love, with the now-tested male dominant. The extremes of erotic hungering and hatred, the warring polarities of male and female, have been briefly but acutely exposed. In Lawrence's uniquely uncondescending dramatization of passional struggle in ordinary life, the deep and complex "anguish of spirit" of otherwise apparently simple people is revealed.

This powerful tale is essential Lawrence. But his first novel, The White Peacock (1911), by contrast, is stilted and slight. This slow-paced account of the genteel romances of provincial adolescents—which shams indebtedness to early George Eliot and Thomas Hardy (and lesser late-Victorian fiction)—is narrated by an insufficiently characterized middle-class youth, Cyril Beardsal. It loosely centers on the decline of Cyril's farmer friend, George Saxon, who marries down (a pub girl) and within a few years becomes a depressive and defeated drunk. In the course of the narrative, an odd digressive concern with homoeroticism crops up. "I admired the noble white fruitfulness of his form," Cyril says of George and an obsessively remembered nude swim. He recalls how they rubbed each other dry: "the sweetness of touch of our naked bodies one against the other was superb." In "indecipherable yearning," Cyril always remembers that the young male "love was perfect for a moment, more perfect than any love I have known since, for man or woman." No more is done with it here, but homosexuality becomes an ambiguous issue through much of Lawrence's fiction.

Also striking, and inconsistent with the prevailing tone of the novel, is the brief tale of Annable, a local gamekeeper. This intellectual outsider is an educated ex-parson, once married to a noble lady and since become a misogynist and apocalyptic prophet. He provides the novel's entitling metaphor by describing a showy white peacock in a graveyard "perched on an angel … as if it were a pedestal for vanity. That's the soul of woman—or it's the devil." The peacock dirties the angel—"A woman to the end, I tell you, all vanity and screech and defilement." We learn from young Cyril that the embittered keeper "was a man of one idea—that all civilization was the painted fungus of rottenness." His counter to the falsity, in one of the earliest declarations of what was to be Lawrence's famous doctrine: "be a good animal, true to your animal instinct." He is also a first-run for Mellors, gamekeeper-lover of Lady Chatterley in Lawrence's final novel.

This early crude snapshot of the Lawrence prophet is cast aside with Annable's death in the middle of the book. The rest of The White Peacock consists mostly of sentimental adolescent posturings, florid descriptions of nature, and stilted cultural allusions from post-1890s fashions. The novel also reflects what were probably Lawrence's mother's lower-middle-class snobberies and hatred of drinking men. (Indeed, Lawrence rushed a prepublication copy to his mother as she lay dying; she is reported not to have responded.) In his early twenties Lawrence was still trapped by the need to present his mother's puritanic-genteel values. Not surprisingly, then, women dominate all the relationships in the novel, with the males clearly defeated. Many critics have seen this slight fiction as a provincial exercise in late-Victorian quasi-eroticism, though a more essential Lawrence may be recognized in the touches of homoerotic misogyny and prophetic rage.

Lawrence's next novel, The Trespasser (1912), is also weak. He wrote most of it while a schoolteacher in the London suburb of Croydon (1908-1911), after pushing through to a teaching certificate at Nottingham (he had previously worked as a clerk in a surgical appliance factory and assisted in hometown schools). Perhaps some of the claustrophobic emotions in the novel should be related to the painfully slow dying of his mother in 1910 and to his own grave respiratory illness which followed. The book may have been further weakened by Lawrence's inappropriate desire to produce something for popular success. The basic materials for the novel came from an uninsightful schoolteacher friend, Helen Corke, who gave Lawrence her autobiographical manuscript recording a destructive love affair. His adaption covers a few days in the life of a near-middle-aged music teacher, Siegmund, whose adulterous affair with the semifrigid younger Helen concludes with his guiltily hanging himself.

The writing is labored, burdened with poetically inflated statements ("their thoughts slept like butterflies on the flowers of delight"), and heavy with Wagnerian overtones of doomed love. More than half the narrative describes five days of a love tryst on the Isle of Wight, with drawn-out claustrophobic scenes of erotic rituals. These emphasize the resentful fluctuations in feelings between the lovers, mostly induced by the antisexual, willful, and sentimentally righteous woman. Though inadequately backgrounded and developed, these scenes do carry an essential Lawrence theme: the frigidly erotic woman "rejected the ‘animal’" in her short-circuited sensuality, leaving the man feeling like a "balked animal." But the man, too, appears inadequate—narcissistic, priggish, and full of resentful self-pity. The scenes with Siegmund's embittered wife and rejecting children also lack dramatic depth, and the irony that Siegmund's wife is unaffected by her husband's death and takes a lover herself seems stock. Lawrence's insights do not rise here above the maudlin writing.

Quite different is Lawrence's intensely realized third novel, Sons and Lovers (1913). Paul Morel in this novel provides Lawrence's first largely autobiographical character. The highly self-centered Lawrence only haltingly arrived at the autobiographical emphasis. Issues derived from his relations with his domineering mother and righteously willful girl friends usually took priority. Generally, Lawrence's fictional world, as well as his life, remained woman-dominated—and rebelled against. However, to center the issues of Lawrence and his fictions in the Oedipal, and especially in the reductive and self-insulating notions of psychoanalysis, seems needlessly narrow.

Sons and Lovers, the linear story of the Lawrence-like Paul Morel, moves from the early married life of Paul's parents, Gertrude and Walter, to Paul's desperate outcastness after the death of his mother when he is twenty-four. The novel is less about the mother and son than a whole way of life, although Lawrence does appear to have been influenced in his final (third) draft of the novel by the roughly Freudian views of the woman he then lived with, Frieda von Richthofen Weekley. He acknowledged some of that emphasis in a letter in which he speaks of many emotionally crippled mother-lovers, like his protagonist. However, he reasonably insisted that this was only a part-truth (and he failingly attacked Freudianism in his later Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, 1921, and Fantasia of the Unconscious, 1922—two of his many syncretistic religious essays). Most essentially, Sons and Lovers is a novel of provincial family life—a major type of nineteenth-century fiction—with a lower-class and sexual emphasis. Its shape and texture insist on showing its characters as part if not parcel of a whole way of life and culture, not just as psychological cases.

Class ideology and repressions are at issue. No doubt speaking for Lawrence, Paul says of his social ambivalence: "from the middle classes one gets ideas, and from the common people, life itself, warmth." His mother, bitter in her marriage to an improvident coal miner, objects because she desperately wants her sons "to climb into the middle classes." The mother's social ambitions, as well as Paul's mother-fixation, provide much of the basic conflict. As a rising clerk for a surgical appliance firm, as a promising conventional designer, and as a priggish and "superior" young man shedding his social origins, traditional restrictions, friends, and girls, Paul follows his mother's aspirations. His creator had partly gone that route and then rebelled; after teaching, Lawrence turned toward declassed and deracinated bohemianism, becoming the adversary artist-prophet as dissident bourgeois—a role he maintained for the rest of his life.

Paul's rejection of his pit-working, beer-swilling, wife-beating father—who is presented as crude but sensuously and rebelliously immediate—is social as well as psychological. The mother-dominated, sickly, sensitive son chooses the genteel aspirations of his mother in opposition to much of the world in which he grew up. This petty bourgeois feminization causes Paul's alienation, and part of his desperation, at the novel's end.

The marriage between the ill-matched Gertrude and Walter had early turned into a "deadlock of passion" and produced an embittering social as well as psychological conflict. The puritanic daughter of an autocratic father, Gertrude had become dominant in her marriage—"she was her father now"—and undermined the working-class husband. She transfers her erotic and social passions to her sons. The eldest, William, an aspiring gentleman-clerk in London, trapped between his mother's sense of disciplined ambition and a love-hate relation with a frivolous girl, dies in his early twenties; then the guilty mother foists her devotion on her next son, Paul, engendering the same kind of emotional and social anxieties in him.

Walter's scenes, in spite of the antagonistic feminization of the author, suggest a harsh but warm masculine world, with the public house and its male camaraderie his chapel. The matey miner lives a life antithetical to that of his moralistic, chapel-going (Congregational) wife. Her Protestant ethos of self-denial, sexual repression, impersonal work, disciplined aspiration, guilt, and yearning for conversion-escape, not only defeats her already industrially victimized coal-miner husband but also contributes to the defeat of several of their sons. Understanding the social religious matrix seems crucial to understanding other aspects of Sons and Lovers as well. Too much of the critical discussion of Miriam Leivers, Paul's farm-girl love for seven late-adolescent years (derived from Lawrence's girl friend Jessie Chambers, a schoolteacher and later an embittered memoirist) focuses on her conflict with Gertrude for Paul's emotional allegiance. But Paul does not finally reject Miriam because of the disapproval of his jealous mother but because Miriam so totally represents the anxious Protestant sensibility. Acutely delineated as antisensual (see, for example, the fine graphic scenes with the swing and the pecking chickens), Miriam is too "fussy," too religiously earnest for "higher things," too burdened with puritan "proud humility" and a Christian "martyr" psychology. She thus quite lacks sexual passion, humor, irony, openness, and, as Paul repeatedly insists, the richer sense of life recognized in spontaneous feelings. Finally, driven in her twenties by Paul's overdue insistence, she gives herself sexually as a "sacrifice." Paul's tortuous break with the righteously suffering-demanding Miriam, who demonstrates Nietzschean "slave morality," cannot be defined by the Oedipal but by the provincial Protestant ethos, so dominant in Anglo-Saxon countries of the period.

Though sexually backward, Paul also has an affair—a profane love in contrast with his love for the sacral Miriam—with Clara, an older woman (a thirtyish feminist factory worker separated from her blacksmith husband Baxter Dawes). Partly delineated as an erotic "somnambule"—an early example of Lawrence's repeated Sleeping Beauty motif—Clara had never awakened into passional life with her husband. She is aroused by Paul, who demands her submission in a different way. The eroticism becomes for him a conversion experience, "the baptism of fire in passion"—one of Lawrence's most obsessive themes. The erotic transformation is "the something big and intense that changes you when you really come together with somebody." Clara, as is usual with women in Lawrence, is appalled by "the impersonality of passion" and wants Paul to be more sentimentally personal. But the erotic transformation seems crucial for Paul, producing a heightened sense of immanent life. Thus, "having known the immensity of passion," they also know "their own nothingness" as part of a larger awareness of the impersonal flow of vital life. The desire-negation, eros-nihilism dialectic briefly adumbrated here becomes the central Lawrencean doctrine.

The break with Clara in part depends on Paul's emotional bond with his mother. Paul's mother slowly dies of cancer—her son finally aids in euthanasia—during the time of the love affair. However, the abrupt end of Paul's relationship with Clara also results partly from her demand for more security, her guilt toward her husband, Paul's self-centered social ambitions, and more obscure motives, including Paul's ambiguous relation to Clara's husband. A crude but pathetic character similar to Walter Morel, Baxter in frustration has brutalized his wife. He also thrashes Paul after the priggish youth has helped get him fired and taunted his manliness. Yet "they had met in an extremity of hate, and it was a bond." So Paul becomes a friend of the "sulking" Baxter, gives him money and help in finding a job, and finally insists on turning Clara back to him. This curious twist suggests guilt, homoeroticism, and a placation of the father-masculine world. It also allows Paul to again escape the female power.

Another power seems to be at work in Sons and Lovers. Paul is always "fretting" with himself, engaged in a never fully conceptualized internal warfare not adequately explainable by the social tensions and familial discord. Sickly from the start, he has long shown signs of "slow suicide." As more generally with Lawrence, Paul's death wish seems larger and deeper than any specific analysis, such as Oedipal despair, can account for. In "Derelict," the concluding chapter of Sons and Lovers, Paul's longing for annihilation goes beyond its ostensible cause in the death of his mother. Having turned Clara back to her husband and made a final rejection of the claustrophobic Christian Miriam, Paul "whimpers" for his dead mother and yearns for the final darkness. In a letter written after he had completed the novel, Lawrence characterized his protagonist as in a "drift toward death." Is this reversed in the concluding sentence of the novel when Paul turns away from the darkness represented (rather than caused) by his dead mother, "towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly"? Towns were usually negative images for anti-industrial Lawrence. But some readers ingeniously emphasize the older meaning of the novel's last word, quickly (that is, lively), to argue for the hopefulness of the conclusion. After all, Paul has achieved passional transformation and has perhaps partially transcended his Oedipal curse. Yet given the whole pattern of the novel, as well as the last chapter (and Lawrence's related works), the most sensible conclusion might be that Paul Morel has lost more than he has won. Sons and Lovers may be viewed as considerably story of defeat.

But the crucial experience of the story may be less Paul's progress or defeat than Lawrence's intense portrayal of the life of the lower-class provincials, executed with psychological complexity and without condescension. This portrayal includes not only the coal miner's conflict-ridden family but also life on the Leivers' farm, work in the factory, and the struggles of courtship. While the writing in Sons and Lovers is, typically for Lawrence, erratic because of instances of redundancy, inflated statements about feelings, and cursory handling of some important developments (such as Paul's loss of religion), the novel displays unusual sensitivity to the felt fabric of provincial life.

Some critics suggest that this power of the novel derives from its autobiographical basis, but Lawrence's too personal perspective also accounts for some evident weaknesses. The authorial persona is often described in embarrassingly narcissistic ways, while the other Morel children, though crucial to the family theme, are insufficiently developed. Also, there is little critical perspective on Paul's callow artistic views and antifeminist prejudices. Even the later Lawrence reportedly thought his treatment of Walter Morel too biased from the maternal perspective. Sons and Lovers falteringly records only part of Lawrence's struggle for a fuller critical consciousness of his background.

The writing of his third novel more or less coincided with drastic changes of consciousness in Lawrence's life. By 1912 he had given up the conventional and restricted life of a schoolteacher. He took a financial risk hoping to live on the income from his writing. (He had to have the help of patrons on several occasions.) After abortive relationships with several women, he ran off to the Continent the spring of 1912 with Frieda von Richthofen Weekley, the upperclass, German-born wife of a former college teacher of his. A combination of the maternal and bohemian, Frieda precipitously abandoned three children to go with Lawrence. The romance placed drastic demands on both. In what became a famous love affair, Lawrence personally dramatized several themes of his love stories, such as his belief that a deep passion requires a cross-class (and often a cross-ethnic and cross-cultural) mating. Does one thus escape some of the Oedipalincest fears? One certainly thus engages in a relationship marked by considerable conflict, as was true of Lawrence and Frieda, whose marriage was formalized in 1914 and more or less maintained until his death. The two felt themselves to be, as Lawrence's lovers usually do, in self-exile from the staid communities they had violated and fled in their passion.

Because of his sense of personal liberation, as well as financial need, Lawrence was extremely productive in the following years. Staying first in Germany and then in remote places in Italy, he and Frieda returned to England before World War I. Though outraged at the war, which he saw as an expression of the death wish of Western civilization (and during which he sometimes had to endure police surveillance because of his German wife and his own antipatriotism), he unhappily remained in England for its duration. He completed a variety of essays, plays, sketches, poems, and stories. He had become an established literary figure, though his finances remained precarious and his way of life more or less that of a marginal bohemian.

Among his early writings, the novella Daughters of the Vicar (written in 1911) may be considered representative of Lawrence's strengths and weaknesses. Using what was to be one of his favorite devices, he presents contrasting portraits of two sisters: Mary, the dutiful, repressed, and socially successful; Louise, the passional, unconventional, and erotically successful. The tale is an argument for personal liberation and harshly portrays the destructive middle-class Christian (High Church) milieu. With a mixture of realism and caricature, Lawrence savages the vicar's family in their snobbish, genteel poverty and repression. Mary pursues a cerebral clergyman, an Oxfordian with a church sinecure and other financial means, a cold and morally rigid "little abortion" of a man. Denying her erotic existence ("she would not feel"), Mary expediently marries him and produces the fussy little monster's children. She had "sold herself," "murdering" what was best in herself, and is filled with "general destruction" which will be directed "towards charity and high-minded living." Thus she commits the crimes of conventional and antipassional Christian moral love.

Sister Louise discovers herself rebelling against such morality in a commitment to passion and thus achieves purposeful character. She pursues, with difficulty, a sensitive, declassed coal miner, Alfred, who has bookish and musical proclivities and is "polarized" emotionally by his strong-willed, widowed mother, with whom he lives. Thanks to Louise, Alfred struggles, after his emotional collapse at his mother's death, from "great chaos" to a "wonderful" responsiveness, partly elaborated in Lawrence's heavy prose of passion ("lightening," "seared," "fiery anguish," "torment," "utter darkness," "agony of chaos," "glowing," "eternal," "kind of death," "swooning," etc.). Alfred's breakthrough is the emotional liberation of the repressed and requires a social-class violation. The story concludes with the snobbish and nasty rejection of the lovers by the vicar and his wife. The lovers plan to flee to the colonies; such are the social consequences of the realization of passion against the social-moral order. While Daughters of the Vicar is sometimes awkward in its caricatures and insistent abstract metaphors of the emotions, it is sharp in its contrasts of class and in its deployment of the dialectics of eroticism.

Another novella, Love Among the Haystacks (perhaps written shortly before Daughters of the Vicar but first published posthumously in 1930), shows one of Lawrence's simplest erotic patterns. Contrasting brothers, one a victim of "inflamed self-consciousness," the other a more confident mother's boy, discover themselves in a rural-ritualistic scene. They work the harvest haystack, respond intensely to the physical scenery (as is usual in Lawrence), jealously fight in a show of their erotic turmoil, and that night in the hayfield achieve sexual consummations—the confident brother with a "wildcat" foreign governess from a nearby vicarage, the emotionally tortured brother with the humble wife of a migrant worker ("both were at odds with the world"). Erotic realization required for each an alien partner. The brothers achieve not just coitus but also a sacramental heightening—what Lawrence here and elsewhere describes as the conversionlike experience of "wonder"—which gives a vibrant sense of inner and outer life.

More often, Lawrence's fictions present erotic recognition as anguished. In one of his best-known early short stories, "Odour of Chrysanthemums" (the materials and themes were also utilized in Lawrence's best play, The Widowing of Mrs. Holroyd, published in 1914), he combines a "realistic" study of working-class domesticity with a poetic heightening. The recurrent metaphor of the "wan flowers," along with Lawrence's usual fire and darkness imagery, reveals failed passion. The burdened and resentful pregnant wife ends up ritually preparing the corpse of her husband, killed in a mine accident. Her epiphany—"death restored the truth"—is that theirs had been an erotic failure and she had been "fighting a husband who did not exist." The righteously rigid wife had defeated the passional individuality of the man. The balancing forces of death and eros fuse in the haunting odor of failure.

The story might also be viewed as the compensatory other side—the woman's failure exposed—of the Walter-Gertrude conflict in Sons and Lovers. Additional variations on that autobiographical material appear in other pre-World War I stories of mining life. In the brief "A Sick Collier," a devoted and hardworking miner husband is properly "polarized"—a key Lawrence term for male-female passional balance—with his superior wife. But he is undermined by a painful and enduring injury. Desperate to join his mates in manly pursuits, he is restrained by his wife and breaks down into mad shouts that the pain is her fault and he wants to kill her. The story ends with his sobbing self-pity and his wife's fear that his sick pay may be stopped because of his derangement. Once the collier has lost his manly role, the balance of the marriage is destroyed. Lawrence often insisted on purposive maleness.

"Strike-Pay" loosely focuses on a miner who loses his money, witnesses the accidental death of a navvy, and goes "home vaguely impressed with the sense of death, and loss, and strife." Thus aware of the "greater" strife in life, he for once manages to win the lesser "battle" of domesticity, asserting his manhood against his mother-in-law and wife. The wife submits to the Adamic authority: "She attended to him. Not that she was really meek. But—he was her man…."

In yet another of these early working-class stories, "A Miner at Home," Lawrence deploys his vivid sense of domestic reality to show the harsh disagreement between a husband and wife over his going on strike. In "Her Turn," a more comic version of the domestic battle of wills, a well-matched couple fights over whether he will share his strike compensation with his wife or use it only for masculine assertion. She counters by spending all their savings to fix up the home, thus forcing him to share his strike pay with her. From the same period, "Delilah and Mr. Bircumshow" concerns an unassertive bank clerk who has been defeated by his wife. She clipped "this ignoble Samson … from instinct," but by depriving her husband of his sense of masculine purpose, she has deprived herself of what passion they had. These minor stories are informed—perhaps overinformed, some might suspect—by the endless domestic conflict of Lawrence's Eastwood mining-family childhood. The sense of struggle between man and woman is at the center of much of Lawrence's work.

One of the most powerful of the early short stories is "The Christening." With a perception of family life alien to that of the sentimentalist, Lawrence reveals the kinship bond as one of proud hatred. The family of a retired and declining but still autocratic miner show their domestic scars: the painfully sensitive older daughter is a sickly schoolteacher; the son is a rough bully; the younger daughter resentfully mothers her bastard child by a man she despises. The ritual of baptism for the child certifies a larger bastardy as the legacy of disintegrating authority. The vague officiating clergyman feels overwhelmed by the patriarch—the New Testament by the Old (Lawrence's usual preference)—and the slobbering, self-willed wreck of a miner preaches to the preacher and names the bastard for himself while denying mere earthly fatherhood. His children harden themselves in emotional bastardy, finding his very blessing a curse. He concludes by joyously praising life—"The daisies light up the earth"—but his children sullenly shrink back. There has been generation without regeneration within the wrecked power of the old dispensation.

Nearly a dozen lesser early stories by Lawrence struggle with erotic torments. "The Shadow in the Rose Garden" plays bitter ironies on the traditional romance imagery of the rose. On her honeymoon, a woman unexpectedly meets her former lover in a rose garden. But he is now a lunatic incapable of even recognizing her. Her crude husband, now aware that his wife has been sexually possessed before, reacts with hatred. In the rather brittle "The Witch a la Mode" a guiltily adulterous young man is "accidentally" burned in his inflammatory love for a dangerous modern woman. In the slight "The Overtone" the issue is a woman's sexual revulsion for her husband. The fervid "New Eve and Old Adam" has a vaguely defined upperclass urban couple in conflict, with the old, Adamic male longing for a unity of the flesh and total commitment from the modern, willful Eve, who will not tolerate such subordination. In the mawkish "The Old Adam" a Georgian aesthete living in the home of a middle-class couple emotionally dallies with the wife, improbably wins a fistfight with the burly businessman husband—this drives the repentant wife back to the husband—and in a kind of homoerotic transfer becomes "close friends" with his rival. For Lawrence, modern love was indeed perplexed.

"A Modern Lover" is one of a group of stories which relate sexual repression to social class, with the woman defeating passion; Muriel and Cyril here are a version of Miriam and Paul in Sons and Lovers. Class more clearly dominates the archly heavy "The Shades of Spring," in which a superior young man, now married, visits his former love, who still longs for his intellectual companionship but has settled for a second-best lover, a gamekeeper. In the slight "Goose Fair" a middle-class young man is passingly tempted by a second-best, a goose girl, but ends in "bitter" submission to the "superior" girl. In the finest of these tales, "Second Best," a young woman desperately decides to settle in love for a man of lower social class. In an unconsciously symbolic act, she brings a dead mole—image of the blind unconscious—to the second-best swain. Throughout his work, Lawrence employs metaphoric animals to represent emotional issues. In "Second Best" social class disparity is overcome by the dark unconscious and ritualistic propitiation, though agony continues in the erotic submission.

After spending time in Germany with Frieda before World War I, Lawrence wrote four stories drawing on German military life, his first reach beyond provincial English materials. In "Once" (1913), a rather forced Maupassant-type erotic tale which may have had its origin in Frieda's experience (she was from a military family and had numerous affairs), a demimondaine tells her current love of an exciting past escapade in which a stranger, a handsome aristocratic officer, came to her bed—a scene with crushed rose petals, gold chains, and other old-fashioned sexual fantasy decor. But the story's tone seems disapproving of the woman's sexual insatiability and search for "sensation." Lawrence, usually very serious about the erotic, frequently contrasts the search for sexual sensation with deeper passion. As he wrote in one of his polemics, "sex in the head, no real desire."

"The Mortal Coil," also brittle in manner, tells of an aristocratic young officer with gambling troubles who is brought to a sense of mortality by the accidental death of his mistress. A better story, "The Thorn in the Flesh," links the breakdown of authority with the breakthrough of passion. A young army recruit, driven to physical revolt against demeaning treatment, flees. He goes to his girl friend, a servant on an estate, and experiences for the first time a "furious flame of passion." Thus sexually liberated, in contrast to his military condition, he has a new sense of being. In the awkward ending, he is recaptured, but we are led to believe that a truer authority, the local baron (Frieda's father?) has responded with manly sympathy and will help the awakened youth.

No such easy escape weakens the most powerful of the stories drawing on German military life, "The Prussian Officer" (the original, and sardonically better, title, "Arms and Honour," was replaced by an editor). Again the story turns on a violent conflict between a harsh officer and an unconsciously rebellious soldier, but here the covert emotional bond appears homosexual, especially on the side of the cruel, aristocratic captain. (As Lawrence wrote in a letter of this period: "soldiers get their surplus sex and their frustration and dissatisfaction into their blood and love cruelty.") After much brutalization, the innocent youth strangles the tormenting officer, flees into the countryside, and wanders about deliriously until he dies. The concluding image of the captain and his orderly side by side in the mortuary emphasizes the irony of union in death for vicious authority and desperate rebel. But the dominant experiences of the story emphasize the obsessional intensification of love-hate feelings and suggest that the consequent alienation and guilt—repeatedly elaborated with scenic images—reveal the desire for annihilation. This, like several of Lawrence's best later fictions, explores the psychological dialectics of destructiveness. The violated innocent's intensification of desire becomes a death-longing.

In summary, of the early (pre-World War I) Lawrence fictions, one novel, Sons and Lovers, clearly stands out. The novella Daughters of the Vicar is not his best writing but displays some of his characteristic social and erotic insights against the milieu of Christian class morality. Although the early stories have a scattering of interesting descriptions and perceptions, especially around issues of erotic conflict, three tales particularly stand out: "The White Stocking," "The Christening," and "The Prussian Officer." These stories not only display the vivid intensity of scene and emotional conflict but also the erotic-nihilistic dialectics which characterize Lawrencean sensibility.

After finishing Sons and Lovers, one of Lawrence's many writing projects was an ambitious novel-saga of provincial life with such provisional titles as "The Sisters" and "The Wedding Ring." This project soon split into two loosely linked but quite different long narratives which became The Rainbow (published in 1915) and Women in Love (published in 1920). Because it was suppressed, partly by historical accidents, for obscenity in Britain and used in a morally tendentious way by several critics, The Rainbow has received more attention than it merits. Much of the writing is redundant and inflated; the story is often ragged and unrealized; the themes are frequently shifting and murky. An obvious failure of fictional craft, the novel may have been additionally defeated by its overly ambitious goal of explaining three generations in England as they pass through major changes in social values and passional relationships.

About half of The Rainbow centers on the adolescence of one third-generation, middle-class girl, Ursula. Her forbears were Midlands farmers of long heritage. The first detailed figure, Ursula's grandfather Tom, a youngest child, combines the sensual and transcendent in his "desire to find in a woman the embodiment of all his inarticulate, powerful religious impulses." In a language heavy with images of heat, flame, and other expressions of transfiguration, Lawrence presents some of Tom's struggle to break through his tormenting sexual repression. Finally he achieves a partial victory by means of his late marriage to Lydia, a mid-thirtyish Polish exile widow with a young daughter, Anna. Lydia's exotic foreignness (a trait that recurs in many Lawrence fictions and was important in his life) excites Tom but also makes for uncertain possession, which drives him to rages and drinking. In Lawrence's insistent (and sometimes unconsciously self-parodying) sanctification of the erotic, woman continues to represent for man the transcendent "unknown," part of the process for heightening passion to "eternal knowledge." Tom sees his marriage as "his Gethsemane and his Triumphal Entry in one" (the obscene puns may not be intentional), his sex with his wife as "blazing darkness" (among other oxymorons), and his intense subjectivity as his "transformation, glorification, admission" into a religious state. The actual sex is vague and the relationship apparently both impassioned and strained.

There are a few effective scenes: Tom's comforting stepdaughter Anna in the barn while her mother is giving birth; his drunken speech at Anna's wedding where the sacramental eroticism takes a seriocomic turn ("a married couple makes one Angel"); and other touches here and there. But Tom drops out of the narrative, ten years before his accidental death in a flood (to be answered by the rainbow?). Surprisingly, we then hear that he had been part of "the old brutal story of desire and offerings and deep, deep-hidden rage of unsatisfied men against women," which had not been dramatically developed.

The sexual burning and perplexity pass on to Anna, who has had to fight against her stepfather Tom to achieve sex and marriage with her cousin, Will Brangwen. Part of Anna's self-discovery occurs during the famous surrogate sexual scene in which she and Will shuck corn sheaves in the moonlight. This second generation's more self-conscious battle of male-female wills plays out in metaphors of heat, birds, unfolding plants, and arching cathedrals (further foreshadowing of the rainbow promise?). The marriage bed again becomes "the core of living eternity," but the passions turn into warfare in which "there could only be acquiescence and submission," temporarily salved by the "tremulous wonder of consummation." Anna overcomes Will when she relinquishes "the adventure to the unknown" for compulsive breeding (nine pregnancies) and a "violent trance of motherhood." She forces Will into a resigned "darkness in which he could not unfold." His aspirations as a religious artist are reduced to a hobby of making church repairs while he earns a living doing mechanical design work (and later teaching crafts in the schools). He principally services the female will and family. We later learn that Anna and Will were never "quite defined as individuals."

The third generation engages in an even more perplexing, and certainly more self-conscious, struggle to relate the erotic to "a sense of the infinite." As an adolescent, the oldest child Ursula takes up with a maternal cousin, Anton, an on-and-off love for the rest of the novel. But Ursula does not really like Anton, except for the physical satisfaction he provides ("her sexual life flamed into a kind of disease"). Her dislike is not surprising, since Lawrence defines Anton as essentially conventional, a "conservative materialist" and statist who goes off to the Boer War as an engineering officer. "His soul lay in the tomb. His life lay in the established order of things."

With Anton away, Ursula works as a primary-school teacher for several years. In vivid scenes in the realistic mode (unlike much of the rest of the novel), Lawrence draws on his own teaching experience to show suppressed rage at the trivializing, regimented, and sometimes mean labors of doing a "collective inhuman thing"—compulsory schooling. Ursula finally escapes from teaching and takes her amorphous romantic yearnings to a university, where as a student she soon becomes disillusioned with that "apprentice shop" for "making money," that "commercial shrine" and "slovenly laboratory for the factory." She eventually flunks her exams.

While teaching, Ursula engages in a lesbian relationship with another teacher, Winifred Inger, taking up "the perverted life of the elder woman." (Lawrence uses perverted to describe any sexual situation he does not approve of.) But to Ursula's combined relief and disgust, Winifred calculatingly ends up marrying Ursula's uncle, Tom Brangwen, Jr. Though inadequately described, this coal-mine industrialist is presented as "perverted" in a larger sense, dehumanizing lives in his "putrescent" eagerness to serve "Moloch," the industrial machine. (Socially bad people almost always have bad sex in Lawrence's works.) Later Lawrence continues the ideologizing by having Ursula, rather improbably, make Nietzschean denouncements of bourgeois society as enslaved to "money-interest" and other false doctrines ("only degenerate races are democratic").

Returned from the war, Anton seems to Ursula an establishment degenerate. She lives with him for a brief time, searching through sexuality for a "consummation" which includes "the infinite." The sex seems to be good—Ursula "entered the dark fields of immortality"—but not good enough to bridge the split between "passion" and "the social self." Finally, Ursula finds Anton even sexually insufficient, and she becomes a predatory "harpy," insatiable and out to destroy his maleness. Anton, "his will broken," flees from her to a conventional marriage and a job as an Indian colonialist.

The final chapter of The Rainbow puts pregnant Ursula in a field with threatening horses (a semifantasy scene, the horses are apparently metaphors for masculinity). Frightened, she becomes ill and soon miscarries. Although now the modern experienced and alienated woman, she still seeks a man "from the Infinite," though realizing that she dangles between the lost organic world of her forbears and an unacceptable present order which is disorder. "She grasped and groped to find the creation of the living God, instead of the old, hard barren form of bygone living." The concluding image of the Old Testament rainbow (repeatedly foreshadowed) gives an uncertain promise of a transcendent dimension and richer life.

The direction of The Rainbow may be summarized as an erratically desperate effort to sanctify the erotic in an increasingly anomic society. In spite of its provocative ideas, powerful moments, and intriguing issues, Lawrence's fourth novel stands as a largely failed work because of bad writing, indifferent dramatization, and fervent incoherences.

In the better-crafted Women in Love we still follow Ursula (and get a few details about Anna and Will, and even a casual reference to Anton), but the fifth novel is not in any important sense a continuation of the fourth. The materials of the narrative have drastically changed; so has Lawrence, his outlook altered by World War I into a new sophistication and hardness. The England at issue is no longer rural and marital but industrial and bohemian. In Women in Love even the old industrial ethic, as embodied by paternalistic mine owner Thomas Crich, is being replaced by the highly rationalized functionalism of his willful son Gerald; the patriarch is being replaced by the new "industrial magnate." Will Brangwen's religious art in The Rainbow has been replaced by his daughter Gudrun's modernist sculpture, by the modernist, antihumanist artist Loerke, by primitive art objects, and the like. In Women in Love social and sexual relations are also different and exacerbated. The "bitterness of the war," Lawrence wrote of the novel, though the story takes place prior to the war, provides a pervasive sense of personal and cultural "crisis" in the "passionate struggle into conscious being," which is the theme of the work.

Rupert Birkin, obviously the Lawrence persona, enters the Brangwen story as Ursula's lover and then husband. The narrative covers the love affairs of the sisters Ursula and Gudrun over a period of slightly less than two years, but their lovers, Birkin and Gerald, displace the sisters as the main focus. As Lawrence writes of his Birkin-self, "his way of seeing some things vividly and feverishly, and of his acting on this special sight" and his intense dialectical struggle with problems of consciousness give the fiction some of its power. But the novel also suffers from Birkin-Lawrence's tendency to make abstract statements about tortured subjectivity, a weakness compounded by the awkward conception of the character as a thirtyish, misanthropic school inspector with a substantial income. Birkin lacks solid personal background and social reality behind his upper-bohemian way of life.

Another difficulty with Birkin derives from the half-covert issue of bisexuality. Women in Love ends, after the suicide of Birkin's friend Gerald in the Tyrolean Alps while the two couples are on vacation, with Birkin promisingly married to Ursula yet still longing for an "eternal union with a man too." In a canceled opening section of the novel (first published in 1963 as "Prologue to Women in Love") Birkin's homosexual side is emphasized in overwrought prose about his "affinity for men," since he has "the hot, flushing aroused attraction" for alien males who "held the passion and the mystery to him." The partly obscured homosexuality dominates several scenes in the novel, especially the wrestling bout between Birkin and Gerald (in the chapter entitled "Gladiatorial"). Homosexuality also explains some of the peculiarities of Birkin's ostensibly heterosexual conflicts with Ursula.

Such ambivalence may underlie such key doctrines of Lawrence's, here and elsewhere, as "Desire, in any shape or form, is primal, whereas the will is secondary, derived." The discovery, and maintenance, of passional desire—the main affirmation of life in a world of smashed values—requires one's protecting desire from the corruptions of willed behavior, be it industrial, social, intellectual, or artistic. Women in Love repeatedly focuses on conflicts, within a character and between characters, of desire against will.

Desire, it should be noted, takes some nastily extreme forms. Birkin, for example, emphatically tells Gerald that "a man who is murderable is a man who in a profound hidden lust desires to be murdered." What happens is what one desires. This absurd generality comes from Lawrence's turning "desire" into an all-encompassing absolute. It may be argued, as apparently the novel intends, that a variant of Birkin's statement applies to Gerald, whose final weakness of desire in his willful struggle with Gudrun becomes suicidal. Even here Lawrence claims larger application since Gerald is the "messenger" of the "universal dissolution into whiteness and snow," the modernist apocalypse without any rainbow promise.

Yet Lawrence's dogmatism with his vitalistic doctrines is not always simpleminded. For striking example, Lawrence gives the negative character Hermione, Birkin's mistress before Ursula (and the author's angry personal caricature of a cultured upper-class lady), some of his doctrinal gestures, such as an insistence on the "spontaneous" over the "self-conscious." Then he has Birkin attack this claim to vitalistic values as "the worst and last form of intellectualism, this love … for passion and the animal instincts." Ironically, Lawrence thus provides what was to be one of the major attacks on Lawrence's own doctrines.

Birkin nonetheless serves as spokesman for Lawrence's persistent recasting of the Nietzschean dialectic. This includes having a passionate "sensuality" (distinguished from the merely cerebral "sensuous" or "sensation" as the Dionysian necessity for true being and culture, the "great dark knowledge" (perhaps Lawrence's most notorious phrase). In Women in Love, various forms of the dark knowledge are presented in terms of a piece of African sculpture, responses to a modernist painting, several episodes with animals, and symbolic scenery. Lawrence's prophetic purpose pervades almost all.

Lawrence makes many of his points by antithesis, and much of the novel is less about desire than about nihilism. Birkin (and Lawrence, as we know from his other writings of the time), shows a raging misanthropy: "mankind is a dead tree"; his "dislike of mankind … amounted almost to a disease"; he "abhors humanity"; "Man is a mistake, he must go"; and on and on. Most of the characters are denounced as well as revealed as profoundly destructive (Hermione, Gudrun, Gerald, Loerke, et al.). Social scene after social scene—London bohemia, the colliers' Saturday night, the cultured wealthy at Hermione's country house, the Crich family wedding—is savaged. The dominant technological commercial order, especially as represented by Gerald Crich, receives sweeping condemnation for its essence, not just its wrongs; it depends on a fundamentally inhumane will, the reduction of people to "instrumentality" and "the substitution of the mechanical principle for the organic." The resulting social order shows "pure organic disintegration and pure mechanical organization. This is the first and finest state of chaos." The only authentic alternative is individual awareness and flight.

Lawrence's erotic dialectic, in this argumentative fiction, develops out of, rather than in spite of, this destructive ordering and the nihilistic conclusions. The Birkin-Ursula courtship becomes a "passion of opposition." Explicitly not a love ethic in any usual sense (like that which belongs to despised Christianity), the "strange conjunction" that Birkin demands is "not meeting and mingling … but an equilibrium, a pure balance of two single beings; as the stars balance each other." No doubt Birkin's individualist stance partly reflects a fear of merger with woman. Lawrence repeatedly and vehemently rejects usual sentimental courtship—elsewhere he scornfully calls it "adoration love"—and demands that passion be "stark and impersonal." Such love precariously intertwines with hostility.

While Lawrence's Birkin claims equality in the relationship, clearly one star is more powerful than the other; Ursula, reasonably enough, repeatedly characterizes her lover's demands as male bullying. Birkin's claim to go "beyond love" reveals considerable misogyny. Woman, as "man-to-man" lovers (Gerald and Birkin) know, "was always so horrible and clutching," full of "a greed of self-importance in love. She wanted to have, to own, to be dominant"—"the Great Mother of everything." Thus Birkin justifies the protective "conjunction between two men," such as the Blutbruderschaft he demands of Gerald. In the scene in which Birkin stones the reflection of the moon on a pond, he intends to shatter the nature goddess Cybele, "the accursed Syria Dea!" Ursula insists on interpreting his action as a demand for love. It is certainly a demand for submission. He wants "the surrender of her spirit," something even beyond the "phallic," for which she must forgo her "assertive will." The woman twists even that to her purposes: she "believed that love was everything. Man must render himself up to her. He must be quaffed to the dregs by her. Let him be her man utterly, and she in return would be his humble slave…." In these conflicting erotic ideologies, mating becomes a kind of permanent warfare.

Curiously, Birkin grants of his transcendental passion that his "spirituality was concomitant of a process of depravity." In Ursula's affectionate surrender in the Sherwood Forest night scene Birkin's ambivalently domineering eroticism apparently takes the form of anal sexuality ("the darkest poles of the body" found "at the back and base of the loins"). How this relates to the "star-equilibrium" of Lawrencean love remains obscure. But the suggestive courtship, presented in intense and even witty scenes, remains provocative, as does the larger passional pathos in which the man desperately quests for "his resurrection" (part of an admitted "religious mania"). Whether the resurrection is momentarily achieved by the "bestial," by female submission, or by male-female warfare for heroic equilibrium, the consequences seem to be an asocial marriage with the couple in isolated flight.

By a not-always-clear antithesis, the Gudrun-Gerald love affair becomes a more deathly battle of wills as they struggle to master each other. Their passion becomes "disintegrating," driving Gerald to self-murder and Gudrun to a man-hating perversity. She takes up with Loerke, a gnomish and nasty German-Jewish modern artist whose "corruption" becomes hers as well. (Lawrence displays some conventional British anti-Semitism here and elsewhere.) For Lawrence, the talented Gudrun and Loerke represent modernist culture in its decadent subservience to the antihuman chaos brought on by industrialism and the war. Through them Lawrence mounts a modernist attack on modernism.

In Women in Love one sister finds an affirmative passion and the other a destructive twisting of passion, but neither achieves traditional marriage. The old world is dead in the most intimate as well as largest senses. The relationship of Ursula and Birkin depends on their being "disinherited"—deracinated, declassed, defamilied—though the protagonist, like Lawrence, retains wistful utopian longings for male bonding and even a new community ("I always imagine our being really happy with some few people"). Utopianism was the other side of Lawrence's nihilism. But the issues in Women in Love, as Lawrence's dialectics and over-reaching metaphors suggest, can have little possible resolution. Erotic perplexity continues. And so does cosmic perplexity: as Birkin says near the novel's end, "Whatever the mystery which has brought forth man and the universe, it is a non-human mystery … man is not the criterion." So human efforts, erotic and other, provide only a momentary stay against the nothingness. This awareness is the deep modern disenchantment, but even so, it can intensify the possibilities of passional realization, which may be taken as the final moral of Women in Love.

This novel is Lawrence's most thoroughly wrought long fiction (though as balanced narrative it may not match Sons and Lovers and Lady Chatterley's Lover, and for perfection of craft and insight it does not equal the best of the short fictions). Its force comes from Lawrence's combination of perplexed dialectics and vivid metaphoric scenes. Among the latter: the fatal water party at the Crichs'; Gerald's willfully fighting his horse; Hermione's smashing Birkin; the stoning of the reflection of the moon; the rabbit's scoring Gudrun's arm; and Gerald's death in the snow. The display of subterranean motives intensifies these scenes. The dialectics work similarly: Birkin's arguments with Gerald carry homoeroticisms as well as anti-industrialism; the lovers' quarrels involve metapsychology as well as courtship; the erotic doctrines concern cultural nihilism as well as sexuality. Such intensification provides much of Lawrence's distinctive quality.

Lawrence's subsequent novels lack much of this force….

Source: Kingsley Widmer, "D. H. Lawrence," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 36, British Novelists, 1890-1929: Modernists, edited by Thomas F. Staley, Gale Research, 1985, pp. 115-49.

T. H. Adamowski

In the following essay, Adamowski explores the theme of otherness in The Rainbow as it relates to the characters' view of themselves and their relationships with others. The author maintains that Lawrence strikes a precarious balance between a sense of distance and togetherness among the characters that is crucial for a healthy sense of the self.

D. H. Lawrence has a place among those who have contributed, despite themselves, to the idiom of mid-century cant. Be yourself, fulfill yourself, find your true self—Lawrence worked this vein before the colliers of identity succeeded, in our day, in working it out. His language has become part of the common speech of a psychotherapeutic culture. Like the language of Erik Erikson, an attack on cant that has seen itself absorbed by the enemy, Lawrence's pivotal terms—the "true self" and the "crisis of identity"—have become lost in the generality of everyday use and misuse. They have now become, surely, linguistic tics.

Like Erikson, Lawrence sought to avoid simple-mindedness by means of the context in which he placed the key notions of his own therapeutic discourse. In his case, the self, in its truth, recognized its own limitations. Where contemporary reference to the "true self" (whatever that may be) becomes cant is in its sentimental refusal to consider the implications of what Lawrence called, in Psychoanalysis and the Unconscious, the dimension of "abysmal otherness," a dimension that if properly understood by many "encounter" therapists might make them despair of their profession: "When I stand with another man, who is himself, and when I am truly myself, than I am only aware of a Presence, and of the strange reality of Otherness. There is me, and there is another being." When Lawrence writes of the need for being "in touch" and for "togetherness," it is never a sentimentalized coincidence, a boundary-less intimacy, that he has in mind; for he maintained a clear perception of the existence of other people in all of their self-enclosed fullness, forever closed to our desire for infiltration into the heart of their being:

When she has put her hand on my secret,
   darkest sources, the darkest outgoings,
when it has struck home to her, like a death,
   ‘this is him!’
she has no part in it, no part whatever,
it is the terrible other

This "darkness unfathomable and fearful, contiguous and concrete" of the Other is the measure of my self:

I shall be cleared, distinct, single as if bur-
    nished in silver,
having no adherence, no adhesion anywhere,
one clear, burnished, isolated being, unique,
and she also, pure isolated, complete,
two of us, unutterably distinguished, and in
    unutterable conjunction.

It is with this notion of "otherness" and its manifestation in The Rainbow that I am concerned.

I want to indicate how that notion may serve in assisting us to understand the relationships that exist in the novel among the following: the very notion of a core to the self, the sensitivity of book towards distance and conflict among selves, and the moments during which they seem to come into a kind of harmony with each other. In the Anglo-Saxon world, we are not often comfortable with what we feel to be the unnecessary portentousness of the words "self" and "other," and we prefer to discuss simply the relationships among certain characters in novels. The very terms "self" and "other" we find too suggestive of an entire nexus of continental jargon, indicative, perhaps, that the person who employs them has come down with a case of what Arthur Koestler once called the "French flu."

If I use these terms it is because I think that in their very abstractness they suggest better than do the more familiar forms of Anglo-Saxon jargon the concern of Lawrence with what men and women are, "inhumanly, physiologically, materially." They are less vulnerable to the "psychologizing" that comes all too easily to the consideration of characters. The latter suggests a multiplicity of discrete persons, each with a certain set of typical feelings, intentions, motives, interests, that is, I think, of marginal significance in Lawrence's vision of human reality. That vision, although it includes the psychological texture of individuals, also attempts to see "beneath" psychology, so to speak, to the ground upon which it rests. In his concern with what we are beyond the "old stable ego of the character," his concern with a condition by whose action "the individual is unrecognizable," Lawrence is less a psychological than an ontological novelist.

In Lawrence's fiction the quality of the otherness of the Other makes itself felt as an attention to the distance between selves. When, for example, Tom Brangwen enters the bedroom of Lydia, after the birth of their child, Lawrence is careful to indicate that this is not that moment of rapport or empathy between husband and wife that the conventional wisdom often suggests for their first meeting after the birth of a baby: "She was beautiful to him—;but it was not human. He had a dread of her as she lay there. What had she to do with him? She was other than himself." Lawrence adds that Lydia looks at her husband "impersonally," and the suggestion is that this inhuman, impersonal quality of Lydia has been revealed to Tom in an immediate intuition, as a certain feeling of dread that goes over him. This beautiful, non-human, dread-evoking quality of Lydia is, in fact, her otherness. It is the index of separation between them. She is the "subject" of an experience, child-bearing, that is hopelessly out of his reach but that has made itself felt, if not thought, in her husband. In his essay "Love," Lawrence refers to otherness as being "unthinkable," and it is with this pre-reflective quality that I am here concerned. We know that there is otherness, and we know it because we cannot know the Other. In the sudden coincidence of non-knowledge and dread that pass over Tom, Lawrence locates otherness. Tom cannot know the experience that makes Lydia so beautiful to him, and that beauty is itself an experience that fills him with the knowledge of his necessary ignorance. We may go through our daily existence among other people in a kind of false security, all of us "human," all of us identifiable persons, but there come moments of epiphany when the person vanishes and the Other appears. The conventional wisdom, including the pieties of psychology, pertain only to that "humanized" everyday world in which we think we can understand each other to the extent that we can know our roles, our habits, and the varieties of stereotyped behavior by which we compose ourselves.

Lawrence finds in the reflective order the domain of "personality," and, in "Democracy," he tells us that the personality is a mask, a "persona," that we pick out from a storehouse of socially and historically established roles. The masks of the self hide us from ourselves as much as they do from others: "This is the self-conscious ego, the entity of fixed ideas and ideals, prancing and displaying itself like an actor." These ideas of the self are a kind of vaccine against otherness. They serve to immunize us against the dread we might feel to know that opposite us stands not simply Mr. Jones, the shy businessman, but, rather, a self that I am not, a center of synthesis that may include me as an item within that synthesis of its experience that it is at all times forging. Alone in her body, free for a moment from any idea of herself, Lydia appears simply as a disconcerting presence to her husband. What can she possibly have to do with him, caught as she is within an experience that is hopelessly alien to his own? It is this inviolable gap between the Self and the Other that, Lawrence believes, gives the lie to the comforting notions of empathy, identification, intimacy, what have you, that exist as possibilities for the personae who, now and again, try on each other's masks.

The proof of the complexity of Tom and Lydia—of their "virtue" if you wish—is their capacity to realize and tolerate this gulf. Neither is content to seek the patronage of a personality in order to hide from the otherness of the Other. Lydia is the "active unknown facing him," the "awful unknown next his heart." Nor is Brangwen first made aware of otherness in his encounter with Lydia, for he experiences it as well with the "small withered foreigner of ancient breeding" whom he meets at an inn before his marriage. After his marriage, he senses it in the woman whom Alfred Brangwen loves: "She was about forty, straight, rather hard, a curious separate creature."

This alertness to the distance between selves is not limited to Tom's experience of Lydia. She, too, is moved by the "impersonality" of their relationship: "She did not know him, only she knew he was a man come for her." Lydia is aware of an intention (a man has come for her) and of an unknowable subject who presides over it. The "face and the living eyes" of Tom are less important for her than is the masculine presence that is the line of demarcation between them. She perceives Tom's separateness most forcefully when she sees his naked corpse: "She went pale, seeing death. He was behond change or knowledge, absolute, laid in line with the infinite. What had she to do with him?" That final question is one that Lawrence often uses to suggest a character's recognition of otherness (we recall it in the mind of Tom, earlier). Its presence here implies not that death is the privileged moment of the revelation of distance but that it is the ratification of a feeling we always have that the Other is "inviolable, inaccessibly himself." The marriage of Tom and Lydia is free of the kind of conflict that we find in that of Will and Anna, yet, as close as they are, Tom realizes that they "must for ever be such strangers, that his passion was a clanging torment to him. Such intimacy of embrace, and such utter foreignness of contact!"

The inaccessibility of the Other, what Joyce Carol Oates, in writing of Lawrence, has recently called "the absolute mystery of the Other which cannot be guessed and cannot be absorbed into the human soul," is not, of course, of the same order as that of the things of the world that we also perceive as distant from us and that we can know only as a set of spatio-temporal relations. The Other, on the contrary, is felt in all of his subjectivity in relationship to our own. We feel that alien subjectivity as a point of reference towards which the world is flowing; and it is a point that may include us in its organization of the world as well as a point with which we can never coincide. "How awfully distant and far off from each other's being we are!" Lawrence writes in a poem that celebrates the closeness of lovers. Apart from certain privileged moments of harmony (that I discuss below), we experience the Other, no matter how much there is of love between us, as an ultimately alien being.

In his account of Anna and Will, Lawrence insists upon this matter of the "distinctiveness" of selves. They are not simply characters with like and different tastes and feelings. Anna first sees Will as a kind of animal: "It was a curious head: it reminded her she knew not of what: of some animal, some mysterious animal that lived in the darkness under the leaves and never came out, but which lived vividly, swift and intense." Later, when his voice fills the church with song, she laughs uncontrollably at this manifestation of the "Will-ness" of Will Brangwen: "Her soul opened in amazement." Her laughter is bizarre only if we assume that we must always place others into certain categories, here that of "tenor." But Will is first a series of sounds, and this primal fact of him is more than Anna can bear. There is even something funny to her in the sight of "his knees on the praying cushion." The others in this congregation are no such burden for her. They do have a place in the church as worshippers, personae without distinction. But in Will Anna sees a kind of contradiction between the fact of a human presence and that collective mask that makes all the worshippers so familiar to her. It strikes her as very funny, and she cannot stop laughing. Her laughter seems to have a conservative impulse, seems meant to put Will, in his disturbing otherness, outside of all relationship to her, and to make of him a funny thing (knees on a cushion, loud sounds). Anna fails, of course, and Will and his ringing voice force her to see the world differently and make her aware that it offers a different aspect to a different pair of eyes: "In him the bounds of her experience were transgressed: he was the hole in the wall, beyond which the sunshine blazed on an outside world." He can open the world to her by the force with which his distinctive presence to the world makes itself felt in Anna as a perspective that is not her own. They were, Lawrence writes, "strangers, yet near." Near, because the Other is not a thing but a self; strange, because the Other is a self that is not her own.

When they work and love in the moonlit cornfield we see the same "alien intimacy" between them as we saw in the relationship of Tom and Lydia. Will cannot "quite overcome" with his kisses, the distance between them. They are "separate, single." "Why was there always a space between them; why were they apart?" Only the rhythms of their work bring them together. Later, after their marriage, Anna feels this space even more acutely than Will: "How unnatural it was to sit with a self-absorbed creature…. Nothing could touch him—he could only absorb things into his own self." Abysmal otherness is not simply an occasion of wonder and love but also of doubt, fear, and hate in the observing self. We see both modes in the relationship of Ursula and Anton Skrebensky.

When Ursula walks into the living room and sees Skrebensky, she is struck by his "self-possession." "He seemed," Lawrence tells us, "simply acquiescent in the fact of his own being, as if he were beyond any change or question." Ursula will come to realize that the self must be in question, and in Women in Love the peculiar instability of Rupert Birkin will fascinate her; but for now she senses and is drawn to that self-possessed otherness of Anton. What first arouses her is that she could "know her own maximum self, limited and so defined against him." Another student of otherness, Sartre, has written that the "road of interiority passes through the Other," and Lawrence would agree. Ursula experiences herself as female in "supreme contradistinction to the male" in Skrebensky.

But after he returns from Africa that maleness seems to have vanished, and instead of being able to assist Ursula in her task of self-definition Anton exists as a check to all of her yearnings: "He seemed made up of a set of habitual actions and decisions. The vulnerable, variable quick of the man was inaccessible." He has, in other words, acquired his persona and become a modern-young-man. Indeed, Ursula can now know him almost as if he were an invariant and stable thing. He has lost his human quick and become other to himself. There are, we can say, forms of otherness within the self. They include that alteration of the self that comes with the betrayal of the quick to the idea and that extraordinary quick itself, that we can never get hold of, that we try to personalize, and that is always there behind our masks.


I have suggested that Lawrence is a novelist concerned not with the psychology of character but with the ur-form of human reality that is prior to any psychic container filled with "traits" and motives ("a set of habitual actions and decisions"). He is concerned with "another centre of consciousness" than that of the psychologist. This other center is a "dark" self, a pre-cognitive, pre-reflective self that we can never "know" but that we may experience as it suddenly transfigures us:

Over [Will] too darkness of obscurity settled. He seemed to be hidden in a tense, electric darkness, in which his soul, his life was intensely active, but without his aid or attention. His mind was obscured.

This "other" self is a body-self, and in the essays on the unconscious, Lawrence speaks of it in physiological and electrical metaphors as a relationship among plexuses and ganglions, electrical circuits and poles. In any consideration of Lawrence's view of otherness, this body-self is crucial because the absorption of the "person" by the body cuts us off entirely from the Other (we are each condemned to our own flesh, each of us ending in our fingertips) and also offers us, paradoxically, a hope of release from the solitary confinement of individuality. If allowed to develop "naturally" (and not under the paralyzing glance of a too-soon-awakened cognitive eye), the solar plexus and the lumbar ganglion, the cardiac plexus and the thoracic ganglion will teach us about the Self and the Other and the relationship that must hold between them. Lawrence does not, of course, lament the individuality of the self. Far from it. He celebrates it. But his insistence on defining human relationships by reference to individualized body-selves confronts him with a problem similar to that faced by Wilhelm Reich, another therapist of the self who sought to make the body function "naturally" in the hope of bringing it into rapport with others. A concern with the uniqueness of the self always runs the risk of making the Other appear to be either inessential or an eternal adversary. The electrical metaphors of Fantasia of the Unconscious (reminiscent, at times, of certain of Reich's metaphors) reveal this problem insofar as they suggest the need for a kind of circuit between the Self and Other by which the integral, isolate individuality of each may be transcended. Lawrence need almost to invent a "current" of rapport dependent upon a space between selves that "invites" the leap of spark from one to other.

As long as we remain "egos," beings of the idea, Lawrence argues that there will be "really no vital difference between us." But the individuals themselves "stay apart forever and ever." This distance, open to the dangers I have mentioned, leads Lawrence to offer the vision of a fusion of desires (not of individuals themselves) in a "fourth dimension," a kind of earthly paradise, where "she who is the other has strange-mounded breasts and strange sheer slopes, and white levels." In the intertwining of desires, the strangeness of the Other is always present. Lawrence wants no "messy" notions of mental or, God forbid, corporeal fusion. In the fourth dimension we stand in awe of the strangeness of the Other; it becomes the symbol of all that we feel lacking in ourselves. But outside of the earthly paradise, in our world of three dimensions, that strangeness may be the occasion of terrible conflicts with the Other. These are not simply psychological rivalries. It is much more intense than psychological conflict, perhaps because it occurs, in Lawrence's view of it, at a pre-cognitive level.

Consider Tom's torment as he feels himself become an object of indifference to his pregnant wife. Lydia seems to have fallen out of common, everyday space we inhabit and that makes our otherness tolerable, into the urgency of her bodily self; and for Tom it is as if she denies his existence: "He felt he wanted to break her into acknowledgment of him, into awareness of him. It was insufferable that she had so obliterated him. He would smash her into regarding him." It is typical of Lawrence to write in this almost lurid way about what might first appear to be only the banalities of life. But they are banal only if we assume that such moments are perfectly transparent to us and if we no longer see in them that there is always a relationship between two selves in which one is made more intensely aware of otherness by an intensification of Other's bodily experience. It is not that Lydia refuses to be aware of her husband, if, by "aware," we mean that she does not see him or look at him. The everyday life goes on as usual in that Tom works, walks in the house, sits at the table; Lydia performs her domestic duties, serves him his dinner. Yet there is a difference. Lydia, in a fullness of identity with herself, as a harbor of new life, stands somehow apart from Tom. She is elsewhere at the very moment that she is there before him. This "elsewhere" is to be found in the interplay of selves and not "persons" (in the sense in which Lawrence speaks of "personality"). The reaffirmation of Lydia's "otherness" is, here, the locus of the elsewhere. The desire to break into this elsewhere leads Tom into a frustration and rage that is revealed in the violent desire to "break" and to "smash" this self-enclosed Other into seeing him. He must flee to the inn "to escape the madness of sitting next to her when she did not belong to him, when she was as absent as any other woman in indifference could be." At moments like these one's integrity, one's otherness, becomes so overwhelming that it seems to affect those near one as a kind of nihilation of them.

Tom experiences this sense of his own nihilation when Lydia speaks of Poland and of her first husband. As in the matter of pregnancy, one may first be tempted to describe such episodes as an example of Laurentian jargon or luridness, if one approaches them as if Lawrence were writing about mere "reminiscences." Why all the fuss and bother? Lawrence's point is that insofar as we are beings who possess memory and can reminisce we are always sealed off from memories that we do not share. The Other has a past that is formally akin to my own having a past and, at the same time, it is a past that is not mine. Again, the point is that Lawrence is concerned with man's ontological makeup. The presence before Tom of a Lydia who has her own past makes Tom feel inessential to her, a mere "peasant, a serf, a servant, a lover, a paramour, a shadow, a nothing." He knew then that he had "nothing to do with her." To speak of her memories in this way, is a sign of Lydia's distance from her husband. At another time it may make her attractive, for it is also a tempting gap-to-be-bridged (whether or not this is possible) as well as a proof of exclusion.

Lydia is herself offended by the particular form that Tom's self-enclosure can take. She sees in him "a solid power of antagonism to her," and it "irritated her to be made aware of him as a separate power." In these moments of antipathy to him, Lydia has recourse to a radicalization of separation. She "lapses" into a "sort of sombre exclusion, a curious communion with mysterious powers … which drove him and the child nearly mad." It is as if they engage in a kind of psychic duel with one another ("It was his turn to submit"), in which now Lydia, now Tom, is master or slave of the other partner.

In Will and Anna we see conflict raised to incandescence. On the day after their marriage, they remain in bed until nightfall, in a "core of living eternity," a "timeless universe of free, perfect limbs and immortal breasts." But eventually the spirit of Anna, like that of Lycius in Keats' "Lamia," begins to pass "beyond its golden bourn/ Into the noisy world almost forlorn." She wants, that is, to give a tea-party. Again, the commonplace becomes a motive for a kind of ontological homicide: "He was sullen. But she blithely began to make preparations for her tea-party. His fear was too strong, he was troubled, he hated her shallow anticipation and joy." Lawrence says of Will that "now he must be deposed." He mopes around the house and gets on his wife's nerves; "… the futility of him, the way his hands hung, irritated her beyond bearing. She turned on him blindly and destructively, he became a mad creature, black and electric with fury." Will is a man who relishes the eternal "moment," whether it be architectural or erotic, while Anna is able to move comfortably in more mundane patterns of existence. But Lawrence is insistent that such "preferences" be seen properly. The newlyweds do not become blindly destructive and electric with fury because they have different tastes. The quarrel is not between rival tastes but between that which accounts for such tastes, between, that is, mutually exclusive bloodstreams roused to fury by their inability to coalesce.

Problems arise when husband and wife insist that the love between them be perfect, and Lawrence argues that this is, in principle, impossible except in a "third land," because "the individualities of men and women are incommensurable." Will's solution to the individuality of his wife is to become "unaware of her. She did not exist. His dark, passionate soul had recoiled upon itself …" His aim is to "annihilate" Anna if he cannot coalesce with her. It is to turn Anna and her party into things of the external world, not to see her as a Self but to brush against her and her party-plans as one brushes against a table. One doesn't say "excuse me" to things. Anna feels his terrible self-sufficiency when she sees in Will the proof of her own nothingness: "His intelligence was self-absorbed. How unnatural it was to sit with a self-absorbed creature, like something negative ensconced opposite one." He is "negative" in that he negates the world by making it a function of his own indifference. And Anna feels her own mastery drained away into this human blotter who "absorb[s] things into his own self."

This see-saw of nihilation is present throughout the novel. In the cathedral it is first Will who denies Anna: "Brangwen came to his consummation" in the world of "this timeless consummation …" that is the church. Anna "resented his transports and ecstacies," for they made this world "not quite her own." In her turn, and despite her own love of the church's beauty, Anna becomes "the serpent in [Will's] Eden," forcing him out of his ecstasy into a world of details, her world of gargoyle faces, so different from the multiplicity of undifferentiated particulars in which Will loses himself. Later, when Anna finds her own ecstasy in dancing, pregnant, "before the Lord," Will can make her "flinch" by his very presence in the room. The presence of Will signals the fact of a different perspective than her own, and it scandalizes her to feel that perspective as it tilts her world into its direction. Anna's dance is, of course, intended as a kind of gesture of nihilation, a magical attempt to "annul" Will, to dance his "non-existence."

These patterns of conflict continue, with certain qualifications, into Lawrence's account of the life of Ursula. When she meets Skrebensky, after his return, Ursula feels that "every movement and work of his was alien to her being." She recalls how, in his youth, he was "near to her": "She thought a man must inevitably set into this strange separateness, cold otherness of being." But Ursula allows her first sense of Skrebensky as a "set of habitual actions and decisions" to go cloudy, in a kind of bad faith. Once again they become lovers, but soon Lawrence sounds the dirge of conflict between them.

Anton is simply unable to match that white-hot passion that makes Ursula "available" to the ministrations of the moonlight: "He felt himself fusing down to nothingness, like a bead that rapidly disappears in an incandescent flame." It is Ursula's rapport with her sister in the sky that causes Anton to "disappear." It is an error to suggest, as does Frank Kermode, that Ursula is to be judged here by reference only to Lawrence's uneasiness with respect to "frictional" sexuality, "the salt destructiveness of all the powers that are hostile to living sex." Theirs is not the conflict between "fell and mighty opposites" that we see in other relationships in the novel (or between Ursula and Birkin in Women in Love). Ursula's "lust" in these passages is a result of Anton's "modernism" more than it is of a flaw in her.

Thus, when they make love under the moon, Anton is a prey to a "beaked" Ursula who gives him a "harpy's kiss." The imagery of castration is perfectly appropriate here, but it has no relationship to the cruder claims of Lawrence's alleged sexism. Better to say that Anton has castrated himself, or that, having abandoned his body to an ego, he deserves what he gets from the passion of a woman who can find no boundary against which to measure herself. Anton's commonness makes him passive to this "prowling" female who "held him pinned down at the chest, awful. The fight, the struggle for consummation was terrible. It lasted till it was agony to his soul, till he succumbed, till he gave way as if dead …" At breakfast, the morning after his encounter with this "fearful thing," the Other, he is "white and obliterated."

Their battle is not simply a result of the differing sexuality of each, for we see such conflict in relationships among characters who are better "matched" sexually. But sexuality is the privileged "content" with which to fill this "form" that is the conflict between individuated selves. Sexuality is, first, a corporeal matter, and Skrebensky is eager to displace it onto a social plane, that of marriage. He is scandalized by, and terrified of, Ursula's ability to give herself up to this inflammation of the body that is sexuality. He simply stands in ignorance before her, unable to meet this being who shouts, as the sea washes over her feet, "‘I want to go, I want to go.’" All he sees, all he knows, is her alien being, her otherness, for he is on the plane of reflection, that is, he is self-conscious. He is aware of his fear and of her passion, not "lost" in passion and beyond reflection. Her "beaked mouth" goes to the "heart of him," of this Prometheus manqué, who receives the punishment of the beak for having been unable to appropriate the fire of the dark gods.


I have suggested that Lawrence's insistence on the integrity of individual selves accounts for the emphasis in his work on the distance between selves as well as on the liability of conflict between them. Yet this necessary distance also acts as a call to harmony with the Other. Lawrence does not wish so to lock his individuated selves within themselves that no hope of rapport between them is possible. This rapport should not, however, be understood as a fusion of some kind that dissolves individual uniqueness and creates an identity between selves. One recalls the effort, in philosophy, of Merleau-Ponty to posit an intermonde by which he hoped to resolve the dilemma created by Sartre's vision of endless conflict between Self and Other. Lawrence calls his own intermonde the "third land where the two streams of desire meet":

The individual has nothing, really, to do with love. That is, his individuality hasn't. Out of the deep silence of his individuality runs the stream of desire, into the open squash-blossom of the world. And the stream of desire may meet and mingle with the stream from a woman. But it is never himself that meets and mingles with herself….

In the Hardy study Lawrence describes desire as a lack of that which we feel would complete us:

And desire is the admitting of deficiency. And the embodiment of the object of desire reveals the original defect of the defaulture. So that the attributes of God will reveal that which man lacked and yearned for in his living. And these attributes are always, in their essence, Eternality, Infinity, Immutability.

Man, for Lawrence, is, as it were, a desire to be God, to be that is, completed, whole, and stable. It is when the streams of desire meet that the tensions of otherness disappear, and we attain to what Lawrence calls "another circle of existence." This other circle is repeatedly described in terms of perfection, completeness, and wholeness; and attains it with the Other.

In The Rainbow Lawrence does not limit the imagery of perfection to moments of sexual desire, although these are the finest and, perhaps, the only real moments of the mingling of the two streams. Given this emphasis on the isolation of the self within its own integrity, it seems reasonable to assume that the self will wish to get outside of itself, outside of what it experiences as incomplete existence (everywhere around it, in persons and things, is evidence of existence other than its own). To achieve this transcendence of the Self by entering into relationships with the Other is a risky business. The Other is moved by the dictates of her own experience, and we have seen the friction that may result from these rival perspectives on the world. Therefore the self may try to find its completeness in non-human experience. In The Rainbow we see such attempts to flee one's partial existence by means of flight into the ecstasies offered by religion, art, and knowledge.

Consider Ursula's initial infatuation with the college. "She was on holy ground," Lawrence writes. Ursula wants a union in which she will be one part of a whole that includes her as a part and that gives her intelligibility and stability. The academic paraphernalia of the college offers her the illusion of a share in its being. Its gothic arches take her back to the "cloistral origin of education", and she would prefer that the faces of her fellow students be more than those of English students of the early twentieth-century: "… she wanted their faces to be still and luminous as the nuns' and the monks' faces." She would like to be no more than a student-in-a-timeless-college, and she loves to pass along the corridors with books in her hand and to hurry into lecture rooms, all as if she were a simple determination of the spirit of the academy. The college offers her a spurious eternality: "Here, within the great whispering sea-shell, that whispered all the while with reminiscences of all the centuries, time faded away, and the echo of knowledge filled the timeless silence." The professors in their gowns are not "ordinary men who ate bacon and pulled on their boots," but were, instead, the "black-gowned priests of knowledge." When she looks out of the classroom window, she sees the world "remote, remote." Ursula has allowed herself to become lost in an unio mystica in which she no longer acts but performs the gestures that reveal her as an academic being, a prefabricated self.

She experiences more important and complex forms of timelessness with Anton: "At the touch of her hand on her arm, his consciousness melted away from him. He took her into his arms, as if into the sure, subtle power of his will, and they became one movement, one dual movement …" But, as we have seen, she does not really find with Anton that equilibrium that Birkin will call "star-polarity." Looking at Skrebensky, she wishes to "lay hold of him and tear him and make him into nothing." Since she cannot rid him of his "will," that reflective faculty that gnaws away at spontaneity, she is tempted to tear apart the body that reveals it. In their second affair she can, by passing over in silence her first feeling of dismay at the sight of him, know a "perfect" moment; but it is one that finds its order corroded by her awareness of her bad faith. In the "utter, dark kiss that triumphed over them both, subjected them, knitted them into one fecund nucleus of fluid darkness," we see the kind of union in the third land to which Lawrence referred. Out goes "the light of consciousness," to inaugurate the reign of darkness and the transfiguration of integers into a "nucleolating of the fecund darkness." But there is no long-term hope for the renewal of such moments. Ursula always sees Anton for what he is, and she must make him suffer for her awareness of his limitations.

This possibility of union with either another person or with an experience is available also to Will and Anna. Their love for each other offers the first possibility, while Will's feeling for beauty and Anna's for maternity offer instances of the second. In the cathedral at Lincoln, "‘before’ and ‘after’ were folded together, all was contained in oneness. Brangwen came to his consummation." Anna, on the other hand, loves to be "the source of children," an essence, one might say, that precedes other existences: "This was enough for Anna. She seemed to pass off into a kind of rapture of motherhood, her rapture of motherhood was everything." These are resting places, the church and the infant, analogous to Ursula's idealized academy. One harmonizes with others across certain mediations: art, biology, knowledge. Lawrence does not mean to suggest that we should not have these experiences. They are, of course, revelations of one's individuality. They become dangerous only insofar as they prevent us from attempting to find rapport with unmediated Others, with beings of flesh and blood who stand before us.

For three days after their marriage, Will and Anna seem to have entered the third land. Lawrence describes them as being "immune in a perfect love." In their cottage, on the first day, there was between them "a great steadiness, a core of living eternity. Only far outside, at the rim, went on the noise and destruction. Here at the centre the great wheel was motionless, centred upon itself. Here was a poised, unflawed stillness that was beyond time …" In time move individuated persons. It is the place of otherness. But as they lie in each other's arms, "complete and beyond the touch of time or change," the lovers find the interworld where Self and Other can, by a mingling of the desire for each other, "complete" themselves. They are at the "centre where there is utter radiance and eternal being" and where individuals become a new being that is the cause of itself. Thus the religious imagery that clothes them with divinity.

One must speculate on the reasons for Lawrence's choice of sexuality as the privileged place. In sexuality there is a reciprocal incarnation of selves into body-selves. It is as if, in un-sexual moments, there is always some vestige of personality that hides us from ourselves. And in the everyday world, even at those moments when our otherness shines through our personae, it is as if the tasks of living (the tea party, for example) are there to reveal otherness as a series of incommensurable choices of action. Sexuality, however, closes the body in on itself. Actionin-the-world has no call on it, and the ideas we harbor of our selves are given the lie by the resurrection of that pre-ideational body that we always are "behind" our ideas. Desire flows through the body and washes away reflection, and all that is left is this pre-reflective "lack" that is the meaning of desire and that is the lack of the Other there before us, returned to her own body. Desire is there on the surface of the body as it touches the desired and desiring "other" body. In this reciprocity of "ignorance," when, as Lawrence once said of the true self, the self "is not aware that it is a self," Will and Anna can be the still and silent hub of an everturning world. It is important also to be clear that at such "perfect moments" otherness is not destroyed. In the reciprocal incarnation of sexuality, there is a reciprocal tolerance of otherness, for it is the Other that one needs to complete oneself. Each lover is the desire for and lack of the beloved.

Tom and Lydia are less self-conscious beings than Will, Anna, and Ursula. They do not have the mediated resting-places that we have seen as being important to the latter. They are left to themselves, knowing distance, conflict, and union only with each other. In their relationship we also see the timeless moments, as, for example, in that "elemental embrace beyond their superficial foreignness" that unites them and in which Tom "let himself go from past and future, [and] was reduced to the moment with her." When, in mutual presence, Tom and Lydia shed the reflectiveness that knows past and future, there is left only the touch that is mindless of everything but its own fullness-in-contiguity with the touch of the beloved. As he lies in bed with this woman to whom he was drawn by her distinctiveness and from whom he was cut off by that distinctiveness, Tom

was silent with delight. He felt strong, physically, carrying her on his breathing. The strange, inviolable completeness of the two of them made him feel as sure and as stable as God. Amused, he wondered what the vicar would say if he knew.

But when Lydia gets up, takes out a "little tray-cloth," sets a tray and speaks of Poland, time begins once more to move. The union is gone as the temporal woman does her chores and speaks of her memories. It is the time of conflict again: "Again he had not got her." Later, after another night when time had come to a stop, Lydia arises in the morning, foreign, and makes Tom "uneasy again. She was still foreign and unknown to him." When the stream of desire flows back to its source, the Other again stands before him and against him.

Lawrence's invulnerability to the charge of cant, whatever his contribution to its vocabulary, lies in his refusal to back off from his vision of otherness. The morning always returns, and the world's pressure is always there. Timelessness is, in fact, contingent on the temporal order, and if his individual selves can be redeemed from conflict it is only on the ground of this fundamental possibility of conflict to which they must inevitably return. There is no way of being "true to oneself" that does not involve the Other. One must always be prepared to acknowledge the existence of experience that can not be reduced to one's own and that may be felt as a kind of laceration of our own experience. One can, I think, raise serious objections to Lawrence's "solution" to the tension of this necessary distance between the Self and the Other, but first it is necessary to understand that his proffer of a third land is intended to respond to his clear perception of this "strange reality" that we have to admit if we wish to claim integrity for the self. Have your individuality, your uniqueness. It is yours by right. Only understand, he implies, that what it entails may appear as a frightening solitude that can be transcended only by first accepting it.

Source: T. H. Adamowski, "The Rainbow and ‘Otherness,’" in D. H. Lawrence Review, edited by James C. Cowan, Vol. 7, No. 1, Spring 1974, pp. 58-77.


Crump, G. B., "Lawrence's Rainbow and Russell's Rainbow," in The D. H. Lawrence Review, Vol. 21, No. 2, Summer 1989, pp. 187, 188, 199, 200.

Lawrence, D. H., The Rainbow, Penguin, 1995.

Rosenzweig, Paul, "A Defense of the Second Half of The Rainbow: Its Structure and Characterization," in The D. H. Lawrence Review, Vol. 13, No. 2, Summer 1980, pp. 150, 151.

Squire, J. C., "Books in General: The Rainbow," in New Statesman, Vol. 6, No. 137, November 20, 1915, p. 161.

Stewart, Jack F., "Dialectics of Knowing in Women in Love," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 37, No. 1, Spring 1991, p. 63.

Widmer, Kingsley, "D. H. Lawrence," in Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 36: British Novelists, 1890-1929: Modernists, edited by Thomas F. Staley, Gale Research, 1985, pp. 115-149.


Brown, Homer O., "The Passionate Struggle into Conscious Being," in The D. H. Lawrence Review, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp. 275-90.

Brown explores the characters' quest in The Rainbow for a sense of identity, especially one that relates to the outside world.

Jackson, Dennis, and Fleda Brown Jackson, eds., Critical Essays on D. H. Lawrence, G. K. Hall, 1988.

This collection includes an overview of the critical reception of Lawrence's works as well as an article on expressionism pertaining to The Rainbow.

Roberts, Warren, and James T. Boulton, eds., The Letters of D. H. Lawrence, Cambridge University Press, 2002.

Lawrence was a prolific letter writer, and in his letters he discusses his works in progress, outlines main themes, and explains his philosophy.

Sagar, Keith, The Life of D. H. Lawrence: An Illustrated Biography, Chaucer Press, 2004.

Sager focuses on important biographical events that influenced Lawrence's work. What makes this book an added plus is that it contains 170 pictures, some in color and many of which have not been published previously.