Lawrence is an author whom I have wanted to read since my A-Level studies began, but I have always been put off from beginning his work due solely to the things Id heard about the smuttier (for want of a better word) elements present in some of his novels. I decided to add one of his novels, The Rainbow, to my Classics Club list to get the ball rolling, as he is an author whom I certainly feel I ought to have read.
Published in 1915, The Rainbow opens with the characters of Tom Brangwen, a descendant of a long-established Derbyshire family: ‘The Brangwens had lived for generations on the Marsh Farm, in the meadows where the Erewash twisted sluggishly through alder trees, separating Derbyshire from Nottinghamshire. Two miles away, a church-tower stood on a hill, the houses of the little country town climbing assiduously up to it.’ Lawrence goes on to beautifully describe the appearance of the family, building them immediately in the mind: ‘There was a look in the eyes of the Brangwens as if they were expecting something unknown, about which they were eager. They had the air of readiness for what would come to them, a kind of surety, an expectancy, the look of an inheritor. They were fresh, blond, slow-speaking people, revealing themselves plainly, but slowly, so that one could watch the change in their eyes from laughter to anger, blue, lit-up laughter, to a hard blue-staring anger; through all the irresolute stages of the sky when the weather is changing.’
Tom soon marries Lydia Lewsky, a Polish widow with a young daughter named Anna. Lydia – or Mrs Lewsky, as she is known – is working as a housekeeper at the local vicarage. The two soon find solace within one another. The rest of The Rainbow is generational in its structure; it follows Anna and her siblings, and then Anna’s own children. This particular aspect of the character study is fascinating, and each member of the Brangwen clan has been realistically built and wonderfully presented. The character arcs, and the paths which each follows from early childhood to adulthood, are believable but not always obvious, which added another dimension to the novel. The Rainbow is not overly plot heavy, and is more concerned with the family and the choices which they make, but it is all the stronger for it.
Lawrence’s grasp and understanding of the family is stunning, and I was put in mind of both Thomas Hardy and George Eliot at times. His descriptions are beautiful, and I was absorbed from the very beginning. The Rainbow is scintillatingly told, and one gets the impression that Lawrence has a piercing understanding for each and every one of his characters. I feel so very foolish for leaving his work by the wayside for such a long time, but at least I have many more of his novels and short stories to enjoy in future.