At the End of the Rainbow

A Taste of Victorian LiteratureTonight wraps up the encore run of ‘A Taste of Victorian Literature‘ lecture and book discussion series with D.H. Lawrence‘s The Rainbow.  Join us this evening at the Plaza Branch at 6:30 pm to listen to Andrea Broomfield‘s lecture and discussion the topic questions.  Hope to see you there!

The following information provided to the group members as reading aids in e-mailed handouts:

About the Book:

The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence
The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence

Within weeks of its publication in 1915, The Rainbow was condemned by British authorities. A London court ordered the destruction of all copies seized from its publisher, leaving in the hands of oft-bemused readers fewer than 1,500 copies of the novel that would later be recognized as D.H. Lawrence’s masterpiece.

Its timing proved particularly unfortunate for The Rainbow, whose anti-war heroine sparked public outrage as World War I entered its second year. This fueled the controversy already surrounding the novel, which the National Council for Public Morals had targeted for its potential to demoralize the public through indecent language.

Both the politics and sexuality expressed in the novel are components of an intensely individualistic philosophy that Lawrence sought to articulate in this fictional chronicle that follows three generations of the Brangwen clan. The story begins in 1840 on a farm in the rural midlands of Nottinghamshire and traces one family’s social, geographical, and religious expansion during the upheaval of the Industrial Revolution. In a genre style similar to that of the Dutch artist Pieter Bruegel the Elder, Lawrence depicts the importance of food and drink within the context of everyday people’s lives and the events that matter to them: weddings, holidays, christenings, and funerals.

The central character is Ursula, who is introduced as a young girl. The development of her consciousness becomes the chief occupation of the novel even as she pursues her education and a romance with her first love. Her story is continued in Women in Love (1920).

This novel falls within the broader definition of Victorian literature, though its author is certainly a product of the Victorian age and the events of the novel fall entirely within that timeframe.

About the Author:

D.H. Lawrence (1885 – 1930) grew up in poverty in the Nottinghamshire town of Eastwood, which would serve as the setting for his early novels, including The Rainbow. His mother Lydia encouraged his education and their close relationship has been the subject of much critical debate.

D.H. Lawrence
D.H. Lawrence

Lawrence worked for a few years as a schoolteacher, though his poor health forced him to quit soon after the publication of his first novel, The White Peacock (1911). This debut was populated by idealized versions of friends and family, as Lawrence often created characters inspired by those he knew. His first commercial success was the essentially autobiographical Sons and Lovers (1913).

A prolific writer, Lawrence churned out multiple drafts of The Rainbow amid a stormy romance with Frieda Weekley, the wife of his former teacher and a mother of three. The couple fled to her native Germany and traveled widely, returning to England two years later to marry after her divorce was finalized.

Lawrence began associating at this time with members of the influential Bloomsbury Group, particularly writer Katherine Mansfield and philosopher Bertrand Russell, with whom he fashioned an unsuccessful plan to establish a revolutionary anti-war political party. A string of ill-luck and hardships – including suppression of The Rainbow – followed.

In 1920, the couple continued their travels and Lawrence returned to prolific form, writing several novels, travelogues, translations, scholarly works on literature and psychoanalysis, and poems in the years to come. Malaria nearly killed him while living in Mexico and his health never fully recovered. In 1928, he published his most controversial novel, Lady Chatterley’s Lover; unexpurgated editions of the novel were unavailable for more than 30 years.

Lawrence succumbed to tuberculosis in 1930. His ashes are enshrined at Kiowa Ranch near Taos, New Mexico.

Discussion Topics for The Rainbow

  1. Much of The Rainbow focuses on conflicts and tensions that exist between people in romantic relationships. As you read about Tom and Lydia, Anna and Will, Ursula and Winifred, and then Ursula and Anton, consider the degree to which these characters and their struggles touch on your own experiences with romantic love.
  2. How might we use this novel to trace and understand industrialization’s effects on the lives of rural English people in the nineteenth century and early twentieth century?
  3. How is Ursula a product of a transitional age, one that moves from an agrarian-based economy and culture to an industrial economy and culture?
  4. Lawrence wrote that The Rainbow is “like a novel in a foreign language.” What elements strike you as unusual, perhaps difficult to translate or understand?
  5. Although the novel depicts England in the Victorian era (roughly 1840-1905), the novel is in many respects modernist. Lawrence concentrates on the inner consciousness of his characters and relies on symbols to add depth to his plot. Including the rainbow itself, what other symbols does the author rely on to convey meaning?