The Sense of History in The Rainbow

  • Mark Kinkead-Weekes


The Rainbow is an historical novel — and if we have not read it so, it is despite the hint, in the pointed division of the opening chapter, which clearly asks for a double focus. From one angle, we are to see archetypal Men and Women in a timeless nature, outside history. The Brangwens, farming their borderland, reveal modes of being that are universal and ‘from the beginning’; oppositions that provide a basic language for all the individual persons and particular conflicts that follow, so that we can compare and contrast three generations of lovers in unchanging terms and grasp the underlying nature of their relationships. However, the second section of the chapter begins pointedly with a date, 1840, and a marked change affecting the daily consciousness of the Brangwens, the cutting of the Nottingham Canal across their lands. The novel will turn out also to be very much concerned, though in Lawrentian ways, with major changes in English life between 1840 and 1905: with effects of industrialism and urbanisation, with education, the emancipation of women, the decline of religiop. From this angle the structure looks quite different. Instead of seeing the same conflicts reorchestrated (and so understanding them better), we have now to see each generation as very differently affected by historical development and social change. Moreover the movement into history is an important theme. We shall not find the ‘hungry forties’ or the Chartists in the world of the beginning: Tom’s Marsh Farm is still relatively isolated and Lydia comes there as a refugee from history; but we can watch Anna and Will begin to enter the mainstream of their time; and Ursula and Skrebensky live in a fully historic world.’


Modern World Personal Story Creative Force Religious Sense Opening Chapter 
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  1. 1.
    Graham Holderness (‘its evolving generational structure has no realist or historical content’) and John Worthen (‘the historical conflicts of the nineteenth century are alien to the progression of the novel’) seem to me to mar a good case on the first generation by generalising to the novel as a whole. Both point out, rightly, that Lawrence is not very interested in the work of the Marsh Farm — though we do get glimpses, and would have seen more had Lawrence not cut a fine ploughing scene from the manuscript. However, in chapter 5 of his Study of Thomas Hardy, Lawrence had argued that the real significance of work is not socio-economic but to do with the evolutionary development of consciousness and selfhood. So it is not surprising that work, too, should figure more in the second generation (though it will be Will’s carving that is important rather than the lace factory), and most in the third generation, when it moves centre-stage in ‘The Man’s World’. See G. Holderness, D. H. Lawrence: History, Ideotogy and Fiction (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1982) p. 186; D. H. Lawrence, The Rainbow, ed. J. Worthen (Harmondsworth, Middx: Penguin, 1981) p. 31. All page references will be given to the latter, cited as The Rainbow (Penguin, ed. Worthen).Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Day and month are given, Lawrence, The Rainbow (Penguin, ed. Worthen) p. 167; the year is arrived at from the ages of all concerned; but it turns out that 23 December was indeed a Saturday that year.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Lawrence in Love: Letters to Louie Burrows, ed. James T. Boulton (Nottingham: University of Nottingham Press, 1968) p. x.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    C. N. Wright (ed.), Directory of Nottingham and Twelve Miles Round, 15th edn (Nottingham: J. Bell, 1891) p. 488, though the credit is given to a Mr Brand, who turns out to have been the clergymap.Google Scholar
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    D. Wardle, Education and Society in Nineteenth-Century Nottingham (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1971) p. 95.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Manuscript, p. 449, ‘called a taxi-cab’; first edition, p. 284, line 10 ‘had a motor-car’; so also Penguin edition, Worthen, p. 350, line 16.Google Scholar
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    ‘Nottinghamshire Register of Motor Cars and Motor Cycles 1903’, ed. P. A. Kennedy, A Nottinghamshire Miscellany, ed. J. H. Hodson et al., Thoroton Society Record Series, xxi (1962) pp. 65–79.Google Scholar
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    Letters,I, pp. 287–8.Google Scholar
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    Lawrence has Dorothy belong to the Women’s Social and Political Union a year before it was founded; and Will could not have gone to the Empire Music Hall before 1897 - but these are rare examples, and not very significant.Google Scholar
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    He was the author of a history of Greasley, Griseleia in Snotinghscire (Nottingham: Murray, 1901), which contains a portrait of him; cf. The Rainbow, ch. 7. He claimed to have escaped the Russians by swimming the Vistula.Google Scholar
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    Edwin Trueman, History of Ilkeston (Ilkeston: John F. Walker, 1880) p. 98; cf. Lawrence, The Rainbow (Penguin, ed. Worthen), p. 72.Google Scholar
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    Perhaps the most spectacular illustration of this point, for me, was to be told by Louie Burrows’s youngest sister that the flood at the Marsh Farm had actually occurred, when her mother was alone in the house with young childrep. There could hardly be a more striking example of the fusion of the biblical/symbolic with the historical.Google Scholar
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    ‘Nottinghamshire Register of Motor Cars, 1903’.Google Scholar
  14. 14.
    The foundation stone is dated 16 February 1864.Google Scholar
  15. 15.
    On the A6096 Ilkeston to Eastwood road, just on the Ilkeston side of the turning to Cossall. The canal is choked and its old narrow-arched aqueduct has been replaced by an ugly new one; the colliery has gone; but the situation described in the novel is easily re-imagined from the canal bank.Google Scholar
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    Charles Hadfield, The Canals of the East Midlands (London, 1966) p. 55.Google Scholar
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    R. Leleux, Regional History of the Railways of Great Britain, vol. Ix: The East Midlands (Newton Abbot: David & Charles, 1984) p. 143; E. G. Barnes, The Rise of the Midland Railway (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1966) ch. 1.Google Scholar
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    Alan R. Griffin, Mining in the East Midlands (London: Frank Cass, 1971) p. 53.Google Scholar
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    Frank Grafton Cook, Some Notes on Cossall and its Past (privately printed, 1971) pp. 4–5; cf. Greenwood’s Map of the County of Nottingham, surveyed 1824–5, pub. 1826. But Ellis’s map, also 1824–5, pub. 1825, portrays the existing situation, so the facts remain rather obscure. Trueman’s History of Ilkeston, p. 99, records the bursting of ‘the embankment close to this aqueduct’ in 1823, so there was already an aqueduct of some sort by thep.Google Scholar
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    Harry T. Moore, The Intelligent Heart (Harmondsworth, Middx: Pen-guin, 1960) p. 25.Google Scholar
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    D. H. Lawrence, Study of Thomas Hardy and Other Essays, ed. Bruce Steele (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985) pp. 36–7.Google Scholar
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    Wardle, Education and Society, p. 145; Geoffrey Trease, Nottingham: A Biography (London: Macmillan, 1970) pp. 202–3.Google Scholar
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    Wardle, Education and Society, pp. 100–1; Lawrence, The Rainbow (Penguin, ed. Worthen) p. 281.Google Scholar
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    W. H. G. Armytage, Four Hundred Years of English Education (Cam-bridge: Cambridge University Press, 1965) p. 186; and Wardle, Edu-cation and Society, p. 88. Those not allowed to leave lingered in Standard V, Ursula’s class, hence its difficulties.Google Scholar
  25. 25.
    Letters, II, p. 165.Google Scholar
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    Lawrence, The Rainbow (Penguin, ed. Worthen) p. 441.Google Scholar
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    Letters, ii, p. 165.Google Scholar
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    Lawrence, The Rainbow (Penguin, ed. Worthen) p. 487.Google Scholar
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    Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (London: George Routledge & Sons, 1932) pp. 139–40.Google Scholar
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    Ursula’s anti-Imperialist arguments with Skrebensky about the Sudan and the British in India (Lawrence, The Rainbow (Penguin, ed. Wor-then) pp. 356 and 513), together with her denunciation of his soldier’s identification with ‘the nation’ (p. 357) may well have seemed particu-larly unpatriotic to the powers-that-be in 1915. These arguments show that the lovers have become part of political history too, by contrast with their varents and erandparents.Google Scholar
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    Lawrence, The Rainbow (Penfuin, ed. Worthen) p. 541.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. p. 540.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., p. 543.Google Scholar
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    Ibid.. p. 547.Google Scholar
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    Cf. ‘I would wish the time to remain unfixed’, in unpublished ‘Foreword to Women in Loac’; see the Random House Modern Library edition and Phoenix II, p. 275.Google Scholar

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© Mark Kinkead-Weekes 1989

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  • Mark Kinkead-Weekes

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