D.H. Lawrence’s ‘The Rainbow’ is experimental, is of its era and has long since become a classic, is exciting, is moving, and works as a novel should: the reader is drawn into an array of characters’ feelings and thought processes, profoundly befuddled and caught up as they are, drawn along a series of plausible events, drawn through another not too unfamiliar world, and delivered up onto another shore. But how has the reader been changed, if at all? If the reader has been changed, it will be something to do with the woman who slowly emerges as Lawrence’s protagonist, the fraught, dissatisfied, and disoriented Ursula Brangwen.
The Rainbow is, according to Barbra Hardy (1993), “one of the great works of modern art, reflecting its age, but also forming it …it is not passive, simply reactive image but a maker of modern consciousness, a shaper of history… the novels is a maker, as well as a mirror, of its time.” Also, she claims “one of the great feminist novels.”
Hardy has it that Lawrence’s characters are both symbolic and psychologically realistic… thereby “smashing” the old stable ego, “rewriting” the Victorian novel, making it introspective and extrovert (in the sense that it seeks to have an impact on the society it describes) at the same time.
“Lawrence cleverly makes women the thinking and aspiring part of his humanity, adroitly managing this unexpected differential by placing the men behind the house, in the fields, away from the high road and the institutions. The women have the stance of the visionary, in time and space. Lawrence is revising an important image of earlier fiction here, the woman at the window, who in Jane Austen, Elizabeth Gaskell, and George Eliot, looks beyond confinement and domesticity. Lawrence’s woman looks beyond the field and the house.”
“…Lawrence resembles George Eliot in The Mill on the Floss and Middlemarch, concentrating on the extensive constrictions and frustrations and ambitions of women, but comaring them, through negative and positive significances, with the constrictions and frustrations and ambitions of men. Not only does Lawrence show the restricting contexts of class, culture and occupation… but he also shows the social constrictions of patriarchal identity.”
“…Ursula ends on her own, unlike any Victorian heroine expect Charlotte Bronte’s Lucy Snowe, whose isolation is brave but tragic. Ursula stands for the joyful, untragic achievement of isolation. …The novel is a dream about dreaming. Its central characters dream and wake up, if only into another dream, another illusion, another madness. Like earlier heroines, Ursula wakes out of those dreams the culture permits, not into death (like Clarissa, Emily Bronte’s Cathy, or Maggie Tulliver) or renunciation and sacrifice (like Lucy Snoew and Isobel Archer) or marriage (like Jane Eyre, Dorothea and many others). The end of The rainbow takes us back to the earlier ambiguous endings of Villette, Middlemarch, Daniel Deronda, and The Portrait of Lady. In these books there is a measure of openness, though with a comforting or a darkening ambiguity.”
“…Ursula is the first woman in English fiction who is imagined as having the need and the courage for a sexual odyssey. She is an Emma Bovary who moves beyond bovaryisme and can live.”
“Like Stephen Dedalus… Ursula discards relationship and country, ‘I have no father or mother, nor lover… I have no… allocated place in the world of things.’ She denies place, Beldover, Nottingham, England and ‘this world’, flying further, in imagination, than Stephen, as he flies past the nets of family, religion and nation … Lawrence… uses his favourite image of unshelling: Ursula sees herself as a free naked kernel striving for new roots.”
A recent review where The Rainbow features in the list of 100 best novels:
“No question: Lawrence is uneven, and troubling. In the last century he was fiercely attacked, and wildly overpraised, not least by the critic FR Leavis who clobbered generations of students with his verdict that Lawrence was “the great genius of our time”. At the same time, my generation ingested Lawrence – his novels, poems, and stories – like junkies. Here, at last, was a writer who was unequivocally all about the human soul, and who loved nothing better than to explore every nuance of family and marital, and sexual, relations.
“… don’t we expect our greatest writers to be a little bit mad? As compelling as the fantasy of the creative crucible, we had the puritanical cold steel of FR Leavis to remind us, in The Great Tradition, about Lawrence’s artistic integrity and moral grandeur, his profound artistic seriousness. As he once wrote to Aldous Huxley: “I always say, my motto is ‘Art for my sake’.” This Lawrence was also the magnificent standard-bearer for English modernism. By the 60s, we didn’t need to box him into a pigeonhole: he was protean, inspiring, and with the kind of grandeur that is unknown today.
“… The DH Lawence with whom we fell in love with was a protean figure, for sure. The barest sketch of his biography – the humble origins in mining Nottinghamshire; the escape to metropolitan London; his elopement with Frieda, a married woman; the long exile; his “savage pilgrimage” to self-knowledge; and finally his early death from tuberculosis in 1930, aged just 44 – put him effortlessly in the company of the great Romantics, Byron and Keats.
“But he was more than a Romantic, apparently in a deep colloquy with some darker forces. He was also intimately in touch with nature, which plays a vital role in all Lawrence’s best work. Thomas Hardy had written about rural Dorset with a poet’s eye, but Hardy was a Victorian who treated the landscape as an attractive backdrop to the human drama. Lawrence is a 20th-century writer and his vision is fresh, dynamic and modern – as if nature is there to galvanise the human soul, not merely to decorate his or her environment.
“… Lawrence first attracted the attention of literary London with a short story entitled Odour of Chrysanthemums, and it’s as the master of the short story that I began to read him. Where to start? There are many options, including The Rocking-Horse Winner, but one of his finest collections is The Prussian Officer and Other Stories, published in 1914. This places it after his acclaimed third novel, Sons and Lovers (1913), but before The Rainbow (1915), the novel that secures his claim on posterity.
“The Rainbow, for me, is as close to perfection as any of his mature fiction. The novel opens with Marsh Farm, the home of the Brangwen family whose men and women, Lawrentian archetypes, inhabit the landscape that Lawrence loved. One of the many joys of The Rainbow is his evocation of the natural world, physical, timeless and symbolic. The novel is also conceived on a majestic scale, spanning a period from the 1840s to 1905, and showing how the Brangwen farming family is changed by Britain’s industrial revolution, evolving from pastoral idyll to the chaos of modernity.
“…The more we look at DH Lawrence, the harder it is to understand why – apart from a shift in the cultural mood – he should have become so neglected. Certainly, he held some perverse, and often baffling, views on sexual politics, especially feminism; also on democracy and organised labour; and on modernity. Like all radicals, he made some ridiculous utterances from time to time. He is a writer that adolescents devour omnivorously, but then cannot return to. Perhaps if we read him in a less compulsive way, we could learn to benefit from the nurture of the diet he offers, and stay with him at all ages, young and old.”
1: The Woman at the Window (Chapter 1)
In autumn the partridges whirred up, birds in flocks blew like spray across the fallow, rooks appeared on the grey, watery heavens, and flew cawing into the winter. Then the men sat by the fire in the house where the women moved about with surety, and the limbs and the body of the men were impregnated with the day, cattle and earth and vegetation and the sky, the men sat by the fire and their brains were inert, as their blood flowed heavy with the accumulation from the living day.
The women were different. On them too was the drowse of blood-intimacy, calves sucking and hens running together in droves, and young geese palpitating in the hand while the food was pushed down their throttle. But the women looked out from the heated, blind intercourse of farm-life, to the spoken world beyond. They were aware of the lips and the mind of the world speaking and giving utterance, they heard the sound in the distance, and they strained to listen.
It was enough for the men, that the earth heaved and opened its furrow to them, that the wind blew to dry the wet wheat, and set the young ears of corn wheeling freshly round about; it was enough that they helped the cow in labour, or ferreted the rats from under the barn, or broke the back of a rabbit with a sharp knock of the hand. So much warmth and generating and pain and death did they know in their blood, earth and sky and beast and green plants, so much exchange and interchange they had with these, that they lived full and surcharged, their senses full fed, their faces always turned to the heat of the blood, staring into the sun, dazed with looking towards the source of generation, unable to turn round.
But the woman wanted another form of life than this, something that was not blood-intimacy. Her house faced out from the farm-buildings and fields, looked out to the road and the village with church and Hall and the world beyond. She stood to see the far-off world of cities and governments and the active scope of man, the magic land to her, where secrets were made known and desires fulfilled. She faced outwards to where men moved dominant and creative, having turned their back on the pulsing heat of creation, and with this behind them, were set out to discover what was beyond, to enlarge their own scope and range and freedom; whereas the Brangwen men faced inwards to the teeming life of creation, which poured unresolved into their veins.
Looking out, as she must, from the front of her house towards the activity of man in the world at large, whilst her husband looked out to the back at sky and harvest and beast and land, she strained her eyes to see what man had done in fighting outwards to knowledge, she strained to hear how he uttered himself in his conquest, her deepest desire hung on the battle that she heard, far off, being waged on the edge of the unknown. She also wanted to know, and to be of the fighting host.
At home, even so near as Cossethay, was the vicar, who spoke the other, magic language, and had the other, finer bearing, both of which she could perceive, but could never attain to. The vicar moved in worlds beyond where her own menfolk existed. Did she not know her own menfolk: fresh, slow, full-built men, masterful enough, but easy, native to the earth, lacking outwardness and range of motion. Whereas the vicar, dark and dry and small beside her husband, had yet a quickness and a range of being that made Brangwen, in his large geniality, seem dull and local. She knew her husband. But in the vicar’s nature was that which passed beyond her knowledge. As Brangwen had power over the cattle so the vicar had power over her husband. What was it in the vicar, that raised him above the common men as man is raised above the beast? She craved to know. She craved to achieve this higher being, if not in herself, then in her children. That which makes a man strong even if he be little and frail in body, just as any man is little and frail beside a bull, and yet stronger than the bull, what was it? It was not money nor power nor position. What power had the vicar over Tom Brangwen—none. Yet strip them and set them on a desert island, and the vicar was the master. His soul was master of the other man’s. And why—why? She decided it was a question of knowledge.
Extract 2: The second generation: Will & Anna Brangwen (Chapter 6)
Was she not herself, and he the outsider.
Yet a quiver of fear went through her. If he should leave her? She sat conjuring fears and sufferings, till she wept with very self-pity. She did not know what she would do if he left her, or if he turned against her. The thought of it chilled her, made her desolate and hard. And against him, the stranger, the outsider, the being who wanted to arrogate authority, she remained steadily fortified. Was she not herself? How could one who was not of her own kind presume with authority? She knew she was immutable, unchangeable, she was not afraid for her own being. She was only afraid of all that was not herself. It pressed round her, it came to her and took part in her, in form of her man, this vast, resounding, alien world which was not herself. And he had so many weapons, he might strike from so many sides.
When he came in at the door, his heart was blazed with pity and tenderness, she looked so lost and forlorn and young. She glanced up, afraid. And she was surprised to see him, shining-faced, clear and beautiful in his movements, as if he were clarified. And a startled pang of fear, and shame of herself went through her.
They waited for each other to speak.
“Do you want to eat anything?” she said.
“I’ll get it myself,” he answered, not wanting her to serve him. But she brought out food. And it pleased him she did it for him. He was again a bright lord.
“I went to Nottingham,” he said mildly.
“To your mother?” she asked, in a flash of contempt.
“No—I didn’t go home.”
“Who did you go to see?”
“I went to see nobody.”
“Then why did you go to Nottingham?”
“I went because I wanted to go.”
He was getting angry that she again rebuffed him when he was so clear and shining.
“And who did you see?”
“I saw nobody.”
“No—who should I see?”
“You saw nobody you knew?”
“No, I didn’t,” he replied irritably.
She believed him, and her mood became cold.
“I bought a book,” he said, handing her the propitiatory volume.
She idly looked at the pictures. Beautiful, the pure women, with their clear-dropping gowns. Her heart became colder. What did they mean to him?
He sat and waited for her. She bent over the book.
“Aren’t they nice?” he said, his voice roused and glad. Her blood flushed, but she did not lift her head.
“Yes,” she said. In spite of herself, she was compelled by him. He was strange, attractive, exerting some power over her.
He came over to her, and touched her delicately. Her heart beat with wild passion, wild raging passion. But she resisted as yet. It was always the unknown, always the unknown, and she clung fiercely to her known self. But the rising flood carried her away.
They loved each other to transport again, passionately and fully.
“Isn’t it more wonderful than ever?” she asked him, radiant like a newly opened flower, with tears like dew.
He held her closer. He was strange and abstracted.
“It is always more wonderful,” she asseverated, in a glad, child’s voice, remembering her fear, and not quite cleared of it yet.
So it went on continually, the recurrence of love and conflict between them. One day it seemed as if everything was shattered, all life spoiled, ruined, desolate and laid waste. The next day it was all marvellous again, just marvellous. One day she thought she would go mad from his very presence, the sound of his drinking was detestable to her. The next day she loved and rejoiced in the way he crossed the floor, he was sun, moon and stars in one.
She fretted, however, at last, over the lack of stability. When the perfect hours came back, her heart did not forget that they would pass away again. She was uneasy. The surety, the surety, the inner surety, the confidence in the abidingness of love: that was what she wanted. And that she did not get. She knew also that he had not got it.
Nevertheless it was a marvellous world, she was for the most part lost in the marvellousness of it. Even her great woes were marvellous to her.
She could be very happy. And she wanted to be happy. She resented it when he made her unhappy. Then she could kill him, cast him out. Many days, she waited for the hour when he would be gone to work. Then the flow of her life, which he seemed to damn up, was let loose, and she was free. She was free, she was full of delight. Everything delighted her. She took up the rug and went to shake it in the garden. Patches of snow were on the fields, the air was light. She heard the ducks shouting on the pond, she saw them charge and sail across the water as if they were setting off on an invasion of the world. She watched the rough horses, one of which was clipped smooth on the belly, so that he wore a jacket and long stockings of brown fur, stand kissing each other in the wintry morning by the church-yard wall. Everything delighted her, now he was gone, the insulator, the obstruction removed, the world was all hers, in connection with her.
She was joyfully active. Nothing pleased her more than to hang out the washing in a high wind that came full-butt over the round of the hill, tearing the wet garments out of her hands, making flap-flap-flap of the waving stuff. She laughed and struggled and grew angry. But she loved her solitary days.
Then he came home at night, and she knitted her brows because of some endless contest between them. As he stood in the doorway her heart changed. It steeled itself. The laughter and zest of the day disappeared from her. She was stiffened.
They fought an unknown battle, unconsciously. Still they were in love with each other, the passion was there. But the passion was consumed in a battle. And the deep, fierce unnamed battle went on. Everything glowed intensely about them, the world had put off its clothes and was awful, with new, primal nakedness.
Anna to Will: “It is impudence to say that Woman was made out of Man’s body,” she continued, “when every man is born of woman. What impudence men have, what arrogance!”
Extract 3: Anna bearing children (Chapter 6)
Anna loved the child very much, oh, very much. Yet still she was not quite fulfilled. She had a slight expectant feeling, as of a door half opened. Here she was, safe and still in Cossethay. But she felt as if she were not in Cossethay at all. She was straining her eyes to something beyond. And from her Pisgah mount, which she had attained, what could she see? A faint, gleaming horizon, a long way off, and a rainbow like an archway, a shadow-door with faintly coloured coping above it. Must she be moving thither?
Something she had not, something she did not grasp, could not arrive at. There was something beyond her. But why must she start on the journey? She stood so safely on the Pisgah mountain.
In the winter, when she rose with the sunrise, and out of the back windows saw the east flaming yellow and orange above the green, glowing grass, while the great pear tree in between stood dark and magnificent as an idol, and under the dark pear tree, the little sheet of water spread smooth in burnished, yellow light, she said, “It is here”. And when, at evening, the sunset came in a red glare through the big opening in the clouds, she said again, “It is beyond”.
Dawn and sunset were the feet of the rainbow that spanned the day, and she saw the hope, the promise. Why should she travel any further?
Yet she always asked the question. As the sun went down in his fiery winter haste, she faced the blazing close of the affair, in which she had not played her fullest part, and she made her demand still: “What are you doing, making this big shining commotion? What is it that you keep so busy about, that you will not let us alone?”
She did not turn to her husband, for him to lead her. He was apart from her, with her, according to her different conceptions of him. The child she might hold up, she might toss the child forward into the furnace, the child might walk there, amid the burning coals and the incandescent roar of heat, as the three witnesses walked with the angel in the fire.
Soon, she felt sure of her husband. She knew his dark face and the extent of its passion. She knew his slim, vigorous body, she said it was hers. Then there was no denying her. She was a rich woman enjoying her riches.
And soon again she was with child. Which made her satisfied and took away her discontent. She forgot that she had watched the sun climb up and pass his way, a magnificent traveller surging forward. She forgot that the moon had looked through a window of the high, dark night, and nodded like a magic recognition, signalled to her to follow. Sun and moon travelled on, and left her, passed her by, a rich woman enjoying her riches. She should go also. But she could not go, when they called, because she must stay at home now. With satisfaction she relinquished the adventure to the unknown. She was bearing her children.
There was another child coming, and Anna lapsed into vague content. If she were not the wayfarer to the unknown, if she were arrived now, settled in her builded house, a rich woman, still her doors opened under the arch of the rainbow, her threshold reflected the passing of the sun and moon, the great travellers, her house was full of the echo of journeying.
She was a door and a threshold, she herself. Through her another soul was coming, to stand upon her as upon the threshold, looking out, shading its eyes for the direction to take.
Extract 4: Ursula dances with Skrebensky (Chapter 11)
As the dance surged heavily on, Ursula was aware of some influence looking in upon her. Something was looking at her. Some powerful, glowing sight was looking right into her, not upon her, but right at her. Out of the great distance, and yet imminent, the powerful, overwhelming watch was kept upon her. And she danced on and on with Skrebensky, while the great, white watching continued, balancing all in its revelation.
“The moon has risen,” said Anton, as the music ceased, and they found themselves suddenly stranded, like bits of jetsam on a shore. She turned, and saw a great white moon looking at her over the hill. And her breast opened to it, she was cleaved like a transparent jewel to its light. She stood filled with the full moon, offering herself. Her two breasts opened to make way for it, her body opened wide like a quivering anemone, a soft, dilated invitation touched by the moon. She wanted the moon to fill in to her, she wanted more, more communion with the moon, consummation. But Skrebensky put his arm round her, and led her away. He put a big, dark cloak round her, and sat holding her hand, whilst the moonlight streamed above the glowing fires.
She was not there. Patiently she sat, under the cloak, with Skrebensky holding her hand. But her naked self was away there beating upon the moonlight, dashing the moonlight with her breasts and her knees, in meeting, in communion. She half started, to go in actuality, to fling away her clothing and flee away, away from this dark confusion and chaos of people to the hill and the moon. But the people stood round her like stones, like magnetic stones, and she could not go, in actuality. Skrebensky, like a load-stone weighed on her, the weight of his presence detained her. She felt the burden of him, the blind, persistent, inert burden. He was inert, and he weighed upon her. She sighed in pain. Oh, for the coolness and entire liberty and brightness of the moon. Oh, for the cold liberty to be herself, to do entirely as she liked. She wanted to get right away. She felt like bright metal weighted down by dark, impure magnetism. He was the dross, people were the dross. If she could but get away to the clean free moonlight.
“Don’t you like me to-night?” said his low voice, the voice of the shadow over her shoulder. She clenched her hands in the dewy brilliance of the moon, as if she were mad.
“Don’t you like me to-night?” repeated the soft voice.
And she knew that if she turned, she would die. A strange rage filled her, a rage to tear things asunder. Her hands felt destructive, like metal blades of destruction.
“Let me alone,” she said.
A darkness, an obstinacy settled on him too, in a kind of inertia. He sat inert beside her. She threw off her cloak and walked towards the moon, silver-white herself. He followed her closely.
The music began again and the dance. He appropriated her. There was a fierce, white, cold passion in her heart. But he held her close, and danced with her. Always present, like a soft weight upon her, bearing her down, was his body against her as they danced. He held her very close, so that she could feel his body, the weight of him sinking, settling upon her, overcoming her life and energy, making her inert along with him, she felt his hands pressing behind her, upon her. But still in her body was the subdued, cold, indomitable passion. She liked the dance: it eased her, put her into a sort of trance. But it was only a kind of waiting, of using up the time that intervened between her and her pure being. She left herself against him, she let him exert all his power over her, to bear her down. She received all the force of his power. She even wished he might overcome her. She was cold and unmoved as a pillar of salt.
His will was set and straining with all its tension to encompass him and compel her. If he could only compel her. He seemed to be annihilated. She was cold and hard and compact of brilliance as the moon itself, and beyond him as the moonlight was beyond him, never to be grasped or known. If he could only set a bond round her and compel her!
So they danced four or five dances, always together, always his will becoming more tense, his body more subtle, playing upon her. And still he had not got her, she was hard and bright as ever, intact. But he must weave himself round her, enclose her, enclose her in a net of shadow, of darkness, so she would be like a bright creature gleaming in a net of shadows, caught. Then he would have her, he would enjoy her. How he would enjoy her, when she was caught.
At last, when the dance was over, she would not sit down, she walked away. He came with his arm round her, keeping her upon the movement of his walking. And she seemed to agree. She was bright as a piece of moonlight, as bright as a steel blade, he seemed to be clasping a blade that hurt him. Yet he would clasp her, if it killed him.
Chapter 12 – Ursula:
She knew that soon she would want to become a self-responsible person, and her dread was that she would be prevented. An all-containing will in her for complete independence, complete social independence, complete independence from any personal authority, kept her dullishly at her studies. For she knew that she had always her price of ransom—her femaleness. She was always a woman, and what she could not get because she was a human being, fellow to the rest of mankind, she would get because she was a female, other than the man. In her femaleness she felt a secret riches, a reserve, she had always the price of freedom.
Chapter 13 – Ursula:
The miserable weeks went on, in the poky house crammed with children. What was her life—a sordid, formless, disintegrated nothing; Ursula Brangwen a person without worth or importance, living in the mean village of Cossethay, within the sordid scope of Ilkeston. Ursula Brangwen, at seventeen, worthless and unvalued, neither wanted nor needed by anybody, and conscious herself of her own dead value. It would not bear thinking of.
But still her dogged pride held its own. She might be defiled, she might be a corpse that should never be loved, she might be a core-rotten stalk living upon the food that others provided; yet she would give in to nobody.
Chapter 13 – Ursula:
She was isolated now from the life of her childhood, a foreigner in a new life, of work and mechanical consideration. She and Maggie, in their dinner-hours and their occasional teas at the little restaurant, discussed life and ideas. Maggie was a great suffragette, trusting in the vote. To Ursula the vote was never a reality. She had within her the strange, passionate knowledge of religion and living far transcending the limits of the automatic system that contained the vote. But her fundamental, organic knowledge had as yet to take form and rise to utterance. For her, as for Maggie, the liberty of woman meant something real and deep. She felt that somewhere, in something, she was not free. And she wanted to be. She was in revolt. For once she were free she could get somewhere. Ah, the wonderful, real somewhere that was beyond her, the somewhere that she felt deep, deep inside her.
In coming out and earning her own living she had made a strong, cruel move towards freeing herself. But having more freedom she only became more profoundly aware of the big want. She wanted so many things. She wanted to read great, beautiful books, and be rich with them; she wanted to see beautiful things, and have the joy of them for ever; she wanted to know big, free people; and there remained always the want she could put no name to.
Extract 5: Ursula and Anthony (Chapter 14)
She did not think of Anthony, yet she lived in a sort of connection with him, in his world. One evening she met him as she was coming down the lane, and they walked side by side.
“I think it’s so lovely here,” she cried.
“Do you?” he said. “I’m glad you like it.”
There was a curious confidence in his voice.
“Oh, I love it. What more does one want than to live in this beautiful place, and make things grow in your garden. It is like the Garden of Eden.”
“Is it?” he said, with a little laugh. “Yes—well, it’s not so bad——” he was hesitating. The pale gleam was strong in his eyes, he was looking at her steadily, watching her, as an animal might. Something leaped in her soul. She knew he was going to suggest to her that she should be as he was.
“Would you like to stay here with me?” he asked, tentatively.
She blenched with fear and with the intense sensation of proffered licence suggested to her.
They had come to the gate.
“How?” she asked. “You aren’t alone here.”
“We could marry,” he answered, in the strange, coldly-gleaming insinuating tone that chilled the sunshine into moonlight. All substantial things seemed transformed. Shadows and dancing moonlight were real, and all cold, inhuman, gleaming sensations. She realized with something like terror that she was going to accept this. She was going inevitably to accept him. His hand was reaching out to the gate before them. She stood still. His flesh was hard and brown and final. She seemed to be in the grip of some insult.
“I couldn’t,” she answered, involuntarily.
He gave the same brief, neighing little laugh, very sad and bitter now, and slotted back the bar of the gate. Yet he did not open. For a moment they both stood looking at the fire of sunset that quivered among the purple twigs of the trees. She saw his brown, hard, well-hewn face gleaming with anger and humiliation and submission. He was an animal that knows that it is subdued. Her heart flamed with sensation of him, of the fascinating thing he offered her, and with sorrow, and with an inconsolable sense of loneliness. Her soul was an infant crying in the night. He had no soul. Oh, and why had she? He was the cleaner.
She turned away, she turned round from him, and saw the east flushed strangely rose, the moon coming yellow and lovely upon a rosy sky, above the darkening, bluish snow. All this so beautiful, all this so lovely! He did not see it. He was one with it. But she saw it, and was one with it. Her seeing separated them infinitely.
They went on in silence down the path, following their different fates. The trees grew darker and darker, the snow made only a dimness in an unreal world. And like a shadow, the day had gone into a faintly luminous, snowy evening, while she was talking aimlessly to him, to keep him at a distance, yet to keep him near her, and he walked heavily. He opened the garden gate for her quietly, and she was entering into her own pleasances, leaving him outside the gate.
Then even whilst she was escaping, or trying to escape, this feeling of pain, came Maggie the next day, saying:
“I wouldn’t make Anthony love you, Ursula, if you don’t want him. It is not nice.”
“But, Maggie, I never made him love me,” cried Ursula, dismayed and suffering, and feeling as if she had done something base.
She liked Anthony, though. All her life, at intervals, she returned to the thought of him and of that which he offered. But she was a traveller, she was a traveller on the face of the earth, and he was an isolated creature living in the fulfilment of his own senses.
She could not help it, that she was a traveller. She knew Anthony, that he was not one. But oh, ultimately and finally, she must go on and on, seeking the goal that she knew she did draw nearer to.
Chapter 15 – Ursula:
But the thing she remembered most was when, getting up in the morning after he had gone back quietly to his own room, having spent the night with her, she found herself very rich in being alone, and enjoying to the full her solitary room, she drew up her blind and saw the plum trees in the garden below all glittering and snowy and delighted with the sunshine, in full bloom under a blue sky. They threw out their blossom, they flung it out under the blue heavens, the whitest blossom! How excited it made her.
Chapter 15 – Ursula Dreams:
She was in some other land, some other world, where the old restraints had dissolved and vanished, where one moved freely, not afraid of one’s fellow men, nor wary, nor on the defensive, but calm, indifferent, at one’s ease. Vaguely, in a sort of silver light, she wandered at large and at ease. The bonds of the world were broken. This world of England had vanished away. She heard a voice in the yard below calling:
And she knew she was in a new country, in a new life. It was very delicious to lie thus still, with one’s soul wandering freely and simply in the silver light of some other, simpler, more finely natural world.
But always there was a foreboding waiting to command her. She became more aware of Skrebensky. She knew he was waking up. She must modify her soul, depart from her further world, for him.
Chapter 15 – Ursula’s Dissatisfaction:
The trouble began at evening. Then a yearning for something unknown came over her, a passion for something she knew not what. She would walk the foreshore alone after dusk, expecting, expecting something, as if she had gone to a rendezvous. The salt, bitter passion of the sea, its indifference to the earth, its swinging, definite motion, its strength, its attack, and its salt burning, seemed to provoke her to a pitch of madness, tantalizing her with vast suggestions of fulfilment. And then, for personification, would come Skrebensky, Skrebensky, whom she knew, whom she was fond of, who was attractive, but whose soul could not contain her in its waves of strength, nor his breast compel her in burning, salty passion.
Chapter 16 – Ursula wavers:
Then gradually the heaviness of her heart pressed and pressed into consciousness. What was she doing? Was she bearing a child? Bearing a child? To what?
Her flesh thrilled, but her soul was sick. It seemed, this child, like the seal set on her own nullity. Yet she was glad in her flesh that she was with child. She began to think, that she would write to Skrebensky, that she would go out to him, and marry him, and live simply as a good wife to him. What did the self, the form of life matter? Only the living from day to day mattered, the beloved existence in the body, rich, peaceful, complete, with no beyond, no further trouble, no further complication. She had been wrong, she had been arrogant and wicked, wanting that other thing, that fantastic freedom, that illusory, conceited fulfilment which she had imagined she could not have with Skrebensky. Who was she to be wanting some fantastic fulfilment in her life? Was it not enough that she had her man, her children, her place of shelter under the sun? Was it not enough for her, as it had been enough for her mother? She would marry and love her husband and fill her place simply. That was the ideal.
Suddenly she saw her mother in a just and true light. Her mother was simple and radically true. She had taken the life that was given. She had not, in her arrogant conceit, insisted on creating life to fit herself. Her mother was right, profoundly right, and she herself had been false, trashy, conceited.
A great mood of humility came over her, and in this humility a bondaged sort of peace. She gave her limbs to the bondage, she loved the bondage, she called it peace.
Chapter 16 – Ursula’s Ending:
Repeatedly, in an ache of utter weariness she repeated: “I have no father nor mother nor lover, I have no allocated place in the world of things, I do not belong to Beldover nor to Nottingham nor to England nor to this world, they none of them exist, I am trammelled and entangled in them, but they are all unreal. I must break out of it, like a nut from its shell which is an unreality.”
And again, to her feverish brain, came the vivid reality of acorns in February lying on the floor of a wood with their shells burst and discarded and the kernel issued naked to put itself forth. She was the naked, clear kernel thrusting forth the clear, powerful shoot, and the world was a bygone winter, discarded, her mother and father and Anton, and college and all her friends, all cast off like a year that has gone by, whilst the kernel was free and naked and striving to take new root, to create a new knowledge of Eternity in the flux of Time. And the kernel was the only reality; the rest was cast off into oblivion.
This grew and grew upon her. When she opened her eyes in the afternoon and saw the window of her room and the faint, smoky landscape beyond, this was all husk and shell lying by, all husk and shell, she could see nothing else, she was enclosed still, but loosely enclosed. There was a space between her and the shell. It was burst, there was a rift in it. Soon she would have her root fixed in a new Day, her nakedness would take itself the bed of a new sky and a new air, this old, decaying, fibrous husk would be gone.
Gradually she began really to sleep. She slept in the confidence of her new reality. She slept breathing with her soul the new air of a new world. The peace was very deep and enrichening. She had her root in new ground, she was gradually absorbed into growth.
When she woke at last it seemed as if a new day had come on the earth. How long, how long had she fought through the dust and obscurity, for this new dawn? How frail and fine and clear she felt, like the most fragile flower that opens in the end of winter. But the pole of night was turned and the dawn was coming in.
Very far off was her old experience—Skrebensky, her parting with him—very far off. Some things were real; those first glamorous weeks. Before, these had seemed like hallucination. Now they seemed like common reality. The rest was unreal. She knew that Skrebensky had never become finally real. In the weeks of passionate ecstasy he had been with her in her desire, she had created him for the time being. But in the end he had failed and broken down.
Strange, what a void separated him and her. She liked him now, as she liked a memory, some bygone self. He was something of the past, finite. He was that which is known. She felt a poignant affection for him, as for that which is past. But, when she looked with her face forward, he was not. Nay, when she looked ahead, into the undiscovered land before her, what was there she could recognize but a fresh glow of light and inscrutable trees going up from the earth like smoke. It was the unknown, the unexplored, the undiscovered upon whose shore she had landed, alone, after crossing the void, the darkness which washed the New World and the Old.
There would be no child: she was glad. If there had been a child, it would have made little difference, however. She would have kept the child and herself, she would not have gone to Skrebensky. Anton belonged to the past.
There came the cablegram from Skrebensky: “I am married.” An old pain and anger and contempt stirred in her. Did he belong so utterly to the cast-off past? She repudiated him. He was as he was. It was good that he was as he was. Who was she to have a man according to her own desire? It was not for her to create, but to recognize a man created by God. The man should come from the Infinite and she should hail him. She was glad she could not create her man. She was glad she had nothing to do with his creation. She was glad that this lay within the scope of that vaster power in which she rested at last. The man would come out of Eternity to which she herself belonged.
As she grew better, she sat to watch a new creation. As she sat at her window, she saw the people go by in the street below, colliers, women, children, walking each in the husk of an old fruition, but visible through the husk, the swelling and the heaving contour of the new germination. In the still, silenced forms of the colliers she saw a sort of suspense, a waiting in pain for the new liberation; she saw the same in the false hard confidence of the women. The confidence of the women was brittle. It would break quickly to reveal the strength and patient effort of the new germination.
In everything she saw she grasped and groped to find the creation of the living God, instead of the old, hard barren form of bygone living. Sometimes great terror possessed her. Sometimes she lost touch, she lost her feeling, she could only know the old horror of the husk which bound in her and all mankind. They were all in prison, they were all going mad.
‘Women in Love’
Sisters Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen struggle to balance independence, love, and marriage at the start of the twentieth century, in D. H. Lawrence’s Women in Love. Controversial when first published in 1920 for its frank treatment of sexual relationships, the novel has since become a classic. In their late twenties when the book opens, the sisters have established independent and comfortable lives. Ursula is a schoolteacher; Gudrun, a sculptor. Gudrun has recently returned to her small hometown from London and finds it stultifying. But the handsome mining heir Gerald Crich gives her pause. Ursula finds herself both captivated and challenged by Rupert Birkin.
Extract 1: Chapter 1 – ‘Sisters’
Ursula and Gudrun Brangwen sat one morning in the window-bay of their father’s house in Beldover, working and talking. Ursula was stitching a piece of brightly-coloured embroidery, and Gudrun was drawing upon a board which she held on her knee. They were mostly silent, talking as their thoughts strayed through their minds.
“Ursula,” said Gudrun, “don’t you really want to get married?” Ursula laid her embroidery in her lap and looked up. Her face was calm and considerate.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “It depends how you mean.”
Gudrun was slightly taken aback. She watched her sister for some moments.
“Well,” she said, ironically, “it usually means one thing! But don’t you think anyhow, you’d be—” she darkened slightly—“in a better position than you are in now.”
A shadow came over Ursula’s face.
“I might,” she said. “But I’m not sure.”
Again Gudrun paused, slightly irritated. She wanted to be quite definite.
“You don’t think one needs the experience of having been married?” she asked.
“Do you think it need be an experience?” replied Ursula.
“Bound to be, in some way or other,” said Gudrun, coolly. “Possibly undesirable, but bound to be an experience of some sort.”
“Not really,” said Ursula. “More likely to be the end of experience.”
Gudrun sat very still, to attend to this.
“Of course,” she said, “there’s that to consider.” This brought the conversation to a close. Gudrun, almost angrily, took up her rubber and began to rub out part of her drawing. Ursula stitched absorbedly.
“You wouldn’t consider a good offer?” asked Gudrun.
“I think I’ve rejected several,” said Ursula.
“Really!” Gudrun flushed dark—“But anything really worth while? Have you really?”
“A thousand a year, and an awfully nice man. I liked him awfully,” said Ursula.
“Really! But weren’t you fearfully tempted?”
“In the abstract but not in the concrete,” said Ursula. “When it comes to the point, one isn’t even tempted—oh, if I were tempted, I’d marry like a shot. I’m only tempted not to.” The faces of both sisters suddenly lit up with amusement.
“Isn’t it an amazing thing,” cried Gudrun, “how strong the temptation is, not to!” They both laughed, looking at each other. In their hearts they were frightened.
There was a long pause, whilst Ursula stitched and Gudrun went on with her sketch. The sisters were women, Ursula twenty-six, and Gudrun twenty-five. But both had the remote, virgin look of modern girls, sisters of Artemis rather than of Hebe. Gudrun was very beautiful, passive, soft-skinned, soft-limbed. She wore a dress of dark-blue silky stuff, with ruches of blue and green linen lace in the neck and sleeves; and she had emerald-green stockings. Her look of confidence and diffidence contrasted with Ursula’s sensitive expectancy. The provincial people, intimidated by Gudrun’s perfect sang-froid and exclusive bareness of manner, said of her: “She is a smart woman.” She had just come back from London, where she had spent several years, working at an art-school, as a student, and living a studio life.
“I was hoping now for a man to come along,” Gudrun said, suddenly catching her underlip between her teeth, and making a strange grimace, half sly smiling, half anguish. Ursula was afraid.
“So you have come home, expecting him here?” she laughed.
“Oh my dear,” cried Gudrun, strident, “I wouldn’t go out of my way to look for him. But if there did happen to come along a highly attractive individual of sufficient means—well—” she tailed off ironically. Then she looked searchingly at Ursula, as if to probe her. “Don’t you find yourself getting bored?” she asked of her sister. “Don’t you find, that things fail to materialize? Nothing materializes! Everything withers in the bud.”
“What withers in the bud?” asked Ursula.
“Oh, everything—oneself—things in general.” There was a pause, whilst each sister vaguely considered her fate.
“It does frighten one,” said Ursula, and again there was a pause. “But do you hope to get anywhere by just marrying?”
“It seems to be the inevitable next step,” said Gudrun. Ursula pondered this, with a little bitterness. She was a class mistress herself, in Willey Green Grammar School, as she had been for some years.
“I know,” she said, “it seems like that when one thinks in the abstract. But really imagine it: imagine any man one knows, imagine him coming home to one every evening, and saying ‘Hello,’ and giving one a kiss—”
There was a blank pause.
“Yes,” said Gudrun, in a narrowed voice. “It’s just impossible. The man makes it impossible.”
“Of course there’s children—” said Ursula doubtfully.
Gudrun’s face hardened.
Extract 2: Chapter 1 – Hermione
This was Hermione Roddice, a friend of the Criches. Now she came along, with her head held up, balancing an enormous flat hat of pale yellow velvet, on which were streaks of ostrich feathers, natural and grey. She drifted forward as if scarcely conscious, her long blanched face lifted up, not to see the world. She was rich. She wore a dress of silky, frail velvet, of pale yellow colour, and she carried a lot of small rose-coloured cyclamens. Her shoes and stockings were of brownish grey, like the feathers on her hat, her hair was heavy, she drifted along with a peculiar fixity of the hips, a strange unwilling motion. She was impressive, in her lovely pale-yellow and brownish-rose, yet macabre, something repulsive. People were silent when she passed, impressed, roused, wanting to jeer, yet for some reason silenced. Her long, pale face, that she carried lifted up, somewhat in the Rossetti fashion, seemed almost drugged, as if a strange mass of thoughts coiled in the darkness within her, and she was never allowed to escape.
Hermione knew herself to be well-dressed; she knew herself to be the social equal, if not far the superior, of anyone she was likely to meet in Willey Green. She knew she was accepted in the world of culture and of intellect. She was a Kulturträger, a medium for the culture of ideas. With all that was highest, whether in society or in thought or in public action, or even in art, she was at one, she moved among the foremost, at home with them. No one could put her down, no one could make mock of her, because she stood among the first, and those that were against her were below her, either in rank, or in wealth, or in high association of thought and progress and understanding. So, she was invulnerable. All her life, she had sought to make herself invulnerable, unassailable, beyond reach of the world’s judgment.
And yet her soul was tortured, exposed. Even walking up the path to the church, confident as she was that in every respect she stood beyond all vulgar judgment, knowing perfectly that her appearance was complete and perfect, according to the first standards, yet she suffered a torture, under her confidence and her pride, feeling herself exposed to wounds and to mockery and to despite. She always felt vulnerable, vulnerable, there was always a secret chink in her armour. She did not know herself what it was. It was a lack of robust self, she had no natural sufficiency, there was a terrible void, a lack, a deficiency of being within her.
And she wanted someone to close up this deficiency, to close it up for ever. She craved for Rupert Birkin. When he was there, she felt complete, she was sufficient, whole. For the rest of time she was established on the sand, built over a chasm, and, in spite of all her vanity and securities, any common maid-servant of positive, robust temper could fling her down this bottomless pit of insufficiency, by the slightest movement of jeering or contempt. And all the while the pensive, tortured woman piled up her own defences of æsthetic knowledge, and culture, and world-visions, and disinterestedness. Yet she could never stop up the terrible gap of insufficiency.
If only Birkin would form a close and abiding connection with her, she would be safe during this fretful voyage of life. He could make her sound and triumphant, triumphant over the very angels of heaven. If only he would do it! But she was tortured with fear, with misgiving. She made herself beautiful, she strove so hard to come to that degree of beauty and advantage, when he should be convinced. But always there was a deficiency.
Extract 3: Chapter 9 – Two men observe the sisters
On the left, as the girls walked silently, the coal-mine lifted its great mounds and its patterned head-stocks, the black railway with the trucks at rest looked like a harbour just below, a large bay of railroad with anchored wagons.
Near the second level-crossing, that went over many bright rails, was a farm belonging to the collieries, and a great round globe of iron, a disused boiler, huge and rusty and perfectly round, stood silently in a paddock by the road. The hens were pecking round it, some chickens were balanced on the drinking trough, wagtails flew away in among trucks, from the water.
On the other side of the wide crossing, by the road-side, was a heap of pale-grey stones for mending the roads, and a cart standing, and a middle-aged man with whiskers round his face was leaning on his shovel, talking to a young man in gaiters, who stood by the horse’s head. Both men were facing the crossing.
They saw the two girls appear, small, brilliant figures in the near distance, in the strong light of the late afternoon. Both wore light, gay summer dresses, Ursula had an orange-coloured knitted coat, Gudrun a pale yellow, Ursula wore canary yellow stockings, Gudrun bright rose, the figures of the two women seemed to glitter in progress over the wide bay of the railway crossing, white and orange and yellow and rose glittering in motion across a hot world silted with coal-dust.
The two men stood quite still in the heat, watching. The elder was a short, hard-faced energetic man of middle age, the younger a labourer of twenty-three or so. They stood in silence watching the advance of the sisters. They watched whilst the girls drew near, and whilst they passed, and whilst they receded down the dusty road, that had dwellings on one side, and dusty young corn on the other.
Then the elder man, with the whiskers round his face, said in a prurient manner to the young man:
“What price that, eh? She’ll do, won’t she?”
“Which?” asked the young man, eagerly, with a laugh.
“Her with the red stockings. What d’you say? I’d give my week’s wages for five minutes; what!—just for five minutes.”
Again the young man laughed.
“Your missis ’ud have summat to say to you,” he replied.
Gudrun had turned round and looked at the two men. They were to her sinister creatures, standing watching after her, by the heap of pale grey slag. She loathed the man with whiskers round his face.
“You’re first class, you are,” the man said to her, and to the distance.
“Do you think it would be worth a week’s wages?” said the younger man, musing.
“Do I? I’d put ’em bloody-well down this second—”
The younger man looked after Gudrun and Ursula objectively, as if he wished to calculate what there might be, that was worth his week’s wages. He shook his head with fatal misgiving.
“No,” he said. “It’s not worth that to me.”
“Isn’t?” said the old man. “By God, if it isn’t to me!”
And he went on shovelling his stones.
The girls descended between the houses with slate roofs and blackish brick walls. The heavy gold glamour of approaching sunset lay over all the colliery district, and the ugliness overlaid with beauty was like a narcotic to the senses. On the roads silted with black dust, the rich light fell more warmly, more heavily, over all the amorphous squalor a kind of magic was cast, from the glowing close of day.
“It has a foul kind of beauty, this place,” said Gudrun, evidently suffering from fascination. “Can’t you feel in some way, a thick, hot attraction in it? I can. And it quite stupifies me.”
Extract 4: Chapter 27 – The Empty Home
They looked in the big dining-room. It was a good-sized room, but now a cell would have been lovelier. The large bay windows were naked, the floor was stripped, and a border of dark polish went round the tract of pale boarding.
In the faded wallpaper were dark patches where furniture had stood, where pictures had hung. The sense of walls, dry, thin, flimsy-seeming walls, and a flimsy flooring, pale with its artificial black edges, was neutralising to the mind. Everything was null to the senses, there was enclosure without substance, for the walls were dry and papery. Where were they standing, on earth, or suspended in some cardboard box? In the hearth was burnt paper, and scraps of half-burnt paper.
“Imagine that we passed our days here!” said Ursula.
“I know,” cried Gudrun. “It is too appalling. What must we be like, if we are the contents of this!”
“Vile!” said Ursula. “It really is.”
And she recognised half-burnt covers of “Vogue”—half-burnt representations of women in gowns—lying under the grate.
They went to the drawing-room. Another piece of shut-in air; without weight or substance, only a sense of intolerable papery imprisonment in nothingness. The kitchen did look more substantial, because of the red-tiled floor and the stove, but it was cold and horrid.
The two girls tramped hollowly up the bare stairs. Every sound re-echoed under their hearts. They tramped down the bare corridor. Against the wall of Ursula’s bedroom were her things—a trunk, a work-basket, some books, loose coats, a hat-box, standing desolate in the universal emptiness of the dusk.
“A cheerful sight, aren’t they?” said Ursula, looking down at her forsaken possessions.
“Very cheerful,” said Gudrun.
The two girls set to, carrying everything down to the front door. Again and again they made the hollow, re-echoing transit. The whole place seemed to resound about them with a noise of hollow, empty futility. In the distance the empty, invisible rooms sent forth a vibration almost of obscenity. They almost fled with the last articles, into the out-of-door.
But it was cold. They were waiting for Birkin, who was coming with the car. They went indoors again, and upstairs to their parents’ front bedroom, whose windows looked down on the road, and across the country at the black-barred sunset, black and red barred, without light.
They sat down in the window-seat, to wait. Both girls were looking over the room. It was void, with a meaninglessness that was almost dreadful.
“Really,” said Ursula, “this room couldn’t be sacred, could it?”
Gudrun looked over it with slow eyes.
“Impossible,” she replied.
“When I think of their lives—father’s and mother’s, their love, and their marriage, and all of us children, and our bringing-up—would you have such a life, Prune?”
“I wouldn’t, Ursula.”
“It all seems so nothing—their two lives—there’s no meaning in it. Really, if they had not met, and not married, and not lived together—it wouldn’t have mattered, would it?”
“Of course—you can’t tell,” said Gudrun.
“No. But if I thought my life was going to be like it—Prune,” she caught Gudrun’s arm, “I should run.”
Gudrun was silent for a few moments.
“As a matter of fact, one cannot contemplate the ordinary life—one cannot contemplate it,” replied Gudrun. “With you, Ursula, it is quite different. You will be out of it all, with Birkin. He’s a special case. But with the ordinary man, who has his life fixed in one place, marriage is just impossible. There may be, and there are, thousands of women who want it, and could conceive of nothing else. But the very thought of it sends me mad. One must be free, above all, one must be free. One may forfeit everything else, but one must be free—one must not become 7, Pinchbeck Street—or Somerset Drive—or Shortlands. No man will be sufficient to make that good—no man! To marry, one must have a free lance, or nothing, a comrade-in-arms, a Glücksritter. A man with a position in the social world—well, it is just impossible, impossible!”
“What a lovely word—a Glücksritter!” said Ursula. “So much nicer than a soldier of fortune.”
“Yes, isn’t it?” said Gudrun. “I’d tilt the world with a Glücksritter. But a home, an establishment! Ursula, what would it mean?—think!”
“I know,” said Ursula. “We’ve had one home—that’s enough for me.”
“Quite enough,” said Gudrun.
“The little grey home in the west,” quoted Ursula ironically.
“Doesn’t it sound grey, too,” said Gudrun grimly.