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This detailed literature summary also contains Related Titles and a Free Quiz on The Rainbow by D.

H. Lawrence.
The Rainbow chronicles three generations of Brangwens living near Marsh Farm. Sexually stormy
marriages set the stage for conflict and power struggles within the home. Tradition, passion,
children, and compromise define the Brangwen clan, giving its members both happiness and
sadness. Ursula Brangwen, the granddaughter of the original Brangwens, takes on the pressures of
her upbringing in order to experience life and love on her own terms.
The Brangwen family has lived at Marsh Farm for many generations. The family has a long
established connection with the earth. When Tom Brangwen inherits the farm, he wants to add
excitement to his life by marrying Lydia, a recent widow, and a Polish exile. Lydia has a daughter,
Anna, from her previous marriage. Tom and Lydia's marriage is distant and silent. They do not
understand each other, but have a strong sexual connection. During Lydia's pregnancy with Tom's
children, Tom and Anna bond. Tom and Anna remain extremely close throughout her childhood.
When Anna grows up, Tom has a difficult time dealing with Anna's marriage to his nephew, Will. Tom
objects to Will and Anna's marriage at first, but eventually agrees to help them out.
Anna and Will set up their own home in a nearby cottage. They enjoy the first weeks of their
marriage but quickly return to normal routines. Their marriage is full of passion, but is often
sidetracked by many pregnancies. Anna is obsessed with fertility and Will withdraws into his
handicraft hobbies. The only thing that bonds them to each other is sex. They battle each other for
dominance in their stormy marriage, although neither one thinks that they are capable of
understanding each other on anything other than a sexual level.
Will and Anna have eight children, the oldest of which is Ursula. Ursula dislikes having to take care of
her younger brothers and sisters and longs for a more meaningful life. During her schooldays, she
dreams of the life of the upper classes and explores her religious faith. She is often conflicted about
the role of Christianity in everyday life. She falls in love with Anton Skrebensky, the son of an old
family friend. When he goes to fight in South Africa, they are unsure how their relationship will
Ursula finishes school after forming a relationship with one of her female teachers, Miss Inger. She is
confused by Miss Inger's sexual advances, but eventually introduces her to her homosexual uncle.
Miss Inger and the uncle marry to cover their homosexual activities. Ursula accepts a teaching
position in a poor neighborhood, but continues to live at home. Ursula dislikes teaching, and
particularly dislikes the corporal punishment she is forced to inflict on her students. After teaching
for two years, she goes to college to get her degree. She enjoys the first year of college, especially
Botany. Meanwhile, her father has been promoted as an Arts and Handicrafts Instructor for the
county. The whole family moves to a bigger house in a fancier neighborhood. They enjoy their new
social position.
During her last year of college, Ursula reconnects with Anton Skrebensky. During his six-month leave
from the army, he and Ursula begin an affair. Ursula loses interest in her classes and routinely leaves
school to be with Anton. During the Easter holidays, the two of them go on holiday together,
pretending to be married. Ursula fails her university exams and gets engaged to Anton. Ursula does
not really want to marry Anton and calls off the engagement shortly before he leaves for India. After
he leaves, Ursula realizes that she is pregnant. She tries to contact Anton, but he does not reply to
her letters. She miscarries and loses her baby. She discovers a new independence and starts her life

he Rainbow, published first in 1915, is the complete and exquisitely organized

form of D.H. Lawrence's views about familial relationships. The novel relates the
story of three generations of an English family--the Brangwens. As the main
characters move in and out of the story's framework, readers are brought face-to-
face before an intriguing theory of passion and power among the familiar social
roles of husbands, wives, children, and parents.
That Lawrence meant The Rainbow to be a novel about relationships is manifest in
the title of the first chapter: "How Tom Brangwen Married a Polish Lady." A careful
reading will make it easy to perceive Lawrence's perception of power-over-passion
in a marital relation. Paradoxically, it is passion that comes first--the passion for
power that is inherent in human animals.

How Relationships Play Out: The Rainbow

Of young Tom Brangwen we read, "He had not the power to controvert even the
most stupid argument so that he would admit things that he did not in the least
believe." And thus Tom Brangwen's quest for power seems to end in love for Lydia,
a Polish widow with a little daughter, Anna. From Lydia's pregnancy to childbirth
and onwards, Lawrence immerses the reader's consciousness in the subtleties of
relationship politics. The story then singles Anna out to elaborate upon the theme
of marriage and dominance.

Anna's love for, and subsequent marriage with, William Brangwen ties in with the
continued dominance of patriarchal system in English society of the time. It is in
this generation's marital relationship that Lawrence creates a flood of
nonconformist questioning of tradition. Anna openly expresses her doubts about
the validity of religious traditions of creations. We read her defiant words, "It is
impudence to say that Woman was made out of Man's body, when every man is
born of a woman."

Banning & Controversy of The Rainbow

Given the zeitgeist of the time, it is no wonder that all copies of The Rainbow were
seized and burnt. The novel was not published in Britain for 11 years. More
ulterior motives for this reaction against the book, perhaps, include the fear of
sharpness of Lawrence's openness in divulging man's inner weaknesses and the
reluctance to accept the helpless dependence that is essentially materialistic in

As the story enters the third generation, the author focuses on the most grasping
character of the book viz. Ursula Brangwen. The first instance of Ursula's negation
of Biblical teachings is her natural reaction against her younger sister, Theresa.

Thereas hits Ursula's other cheek--turned to her in response to the first blow.
Unlike the devoted-Christian action, Ursula reacts like a normal child by shaking
the wee offender in a subsequent quarrel. Ursula develops into a highly
individualistic character giving her creator (Lawrence) a free hand to explore a
taboo subject: homosexuality. The gravity of Ursula's passion for her teacher Miss
Winifred Inger and the description of their physical contact is aggravated by Miss
Inger's negation of the falsehood of religion.
The Failed Relationship: The Rainbow

Ursula's love for the Polish young man Anton Skrebensky is D.H. Lawrence's
inversion of the command of dominance between patriarchal-and-matriarchal
values. Ursula falls for a man from her maternal line of descent (Lydia was Polish).
Lawrence renders the relationship a failure. Love-and-Power becomes Love-or-
Power in Ursula's case.

The individualistic spirit of the new age, of which Ursula Brangwen is the prime
representative, keeps our young heroine from following the long-established
tradition of marital slavery and dependence. Ursula becomes a teacher at a
school and, despite her weaknesses, persists in living on her own instead of giving
up her studies and job for her love.

The Meaning of The Rainbow

Like all his novels, The Rainbow testifies for D.H. Lawrence's prodigy of keeping
the ideal proportion between the constructive and expressive quality of novel. Of
course, we appreciate Lawrence for the wonderful insight and the quality of
putting into words what otherwise could only be felt deep in our selves.
In The Rainbow, Lawrence does not rely heavily on symbolism for the novel's
meaningfulness. The story stands on its own. Still, the title of the novel
symbolizes the whole scene of the story. The last passage of the novel is the crux
of Lawrence's symbolic quality of the narrative. Sitting alone and watching a
rainbow in the sky, we are told about Ursula Brangwen: "she saw in the rainbow
the earth's new architecture, the old, brittle corruption of houses and factories
swept away, the world built up in a living fabric of Truth, fitting to the over-arching

We know that a rainbow in mythology, especially in the Biblical tradition, is a

symbol of peace. It showed Noah that the Biblical flood was finally over. So, too,
the flood of power and passion is over in Ursula's life. It's the flood that had
prevailed for generations.
The Rainbow is one of DH Lawrences most controversial works. It was banned in Great Britain
when it was first published. TheRainbow introduced sexual life into a family-based novel,
portraying a visionary quest for love by three generations of English men and women. Ursula
Brangwen is the main character of the novel, and her goal in the book is to achieve a good and
peaceful relationship with her lover Skrebensky. When they first met, Ursula had found him to be
very beautiful. He was a young man of twenty-one, with a slender figure and soft brown hair
brushed up in the German fashion straight from his brow (p. 268). For many years they had a lively
and active relationship. When Skrebensky asked Ursula to marry him, she replied saying that she
never wanted to be married. He made groping movements to get out of his chair. But he was crying
uncontrollably, noiselessly, with his face twisted like a mask, contorted and the tears running down
the amazing grooves in his cheeks. (p.433) This quote shows the mental torment that he felt when
she told him that she did not wish to marry him. He left her after this. She was subjected to a deep feeling
of remorse and regret. Ursulas awakening comes very near to the end of the book.
She is thinking about Skrebensky and why she feels so empty and lifeless. She realizes that she is
pregnant. Suddenly a shock ran through her, so violent that she thought she was struck down. Was she
with child? She had been so stricken under the pain of herself and of him, this had never occurred to her.
Now like a flame it took hold of her limbs and body. Was she with child? (p. 449) She realized that she had
been wrong in not wanting to marry Skrebensky. She had imagined that she could not have her freedom
with him, but she realized that she could have more. She had been wrong, she had been arrogant and
wicked, wanting that other thing, that fantastic freedom, that illusory, conceited fulfillment which she had
imagined she could not have with Skrebensky. (p. 449) The Rainbow appeared and she realized that she
could have love and a family, and that would make her happier than simply freedom. She immediately sat
down to write him and tell him that she loved him. Ursula decided that she would not only marry for her
sake, but for her child also.

This is a recurrence of the beginning of the book, which although not very relevant to the story of Ursula
and Skrebensky, still has the same motive. Tom Brangwen (Father of Ursula Brangwen) marries a Polish
widow because he loved her and she had a child who needed a father. The Rainbow is one of Lawrences
best works. The characters are real people living out their lives, and Lawrence invites you to become a
member of the Brangwen Family. This is definitely one of my favorite novels.

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Lawrence's frank treatment of sexual desire and the power it plays within relationships as a
natural and even spiritual force of life, though perhaps tame by modern standards,
caused The Rainbow to be prosecuted in an obscenity trial in late 1915, as a result of which
all copies were seized and burnt. After this ban it was unavailable in Britain for 11 years,
although editions were available in the USA.
The Rainbow was followed by a sequel in 1920, Women in Love. Although Lawrence conceived
of the two novels as one, considering the titles The Sisters and The Wedding Ringfor the work,
they were published as two separate novels at the urging of his publisher. However, after the
negative public reception of The Rainbow, Lawrence's publisher opted out of publishing the

Ursula's spiritual and emotional quest continues in Women in Love, in which she continues to
be a main character. This second work follows her into a relationship with Rupert Birkin (often
seen as a self-portrait by Lawrence), and follows her sister, Gudrun's parallel relationship with
Birkin's friend, Gerald Crich.

The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence is a big, brilliant novel

that can be described as many things. First, it is a
family saga covering three generations of the
Brangwen clan. Next, it is a tale of romances as well as
domestic strife centering upon the members of each of
the generations. This is also a novel of astonishing
thematic and philosophical complexity. There are a
vast number of intellectual threads developed here.
Scores and scores of pages are devoted to
philosophical and psychological musings. Lawrence
seems to be developing a Theory of Everything in
this book that encompasses humankind, the universe
and God. Finally, the story is filled with incredibly
nuanced and complex characters.

The book opens in the middle of the nineteenth

century. Tom Brangwen, a young English farmer,
meets, courts and eventually marries Polish widow
Lydia Lensky. The first third of the The Rainbow details
the often tumultuous relationship between the two.

When Lydias daughter from her first marriage,

Anna Lensky, comes of age, she in turn falls in love
and marries Toms nephew, Will Brangwen. This next
generation also experiences a stormy relationship
during the early years of marriage.

Anna and Wills youngest daughter Ursula Brangwen is

the focus of the last third of the book. Ursula becomes
involved in several relationships including one with
another woman as well as another with young army
officer Anton Skrebensky. I am in awe of Lawrence for
what he has done with the character of Ursula, as I will
elaborate on.

This summary sounds relatively simple. However, in

the process of mapping out these relationships,
Lawrence covers a great deal of ground. First, he
describes the enormous passion and equally enormous
strife that characterizes all of the romances and
marriages. Lawrence devotes pages and pages to
these internal battles as well as to detailed analysis of
them. He devotes a huge number of words toward
analyzing the psychology of these men and women,
and even more verbiage digs into the philosophy
behind both the relationships and the universe at
large. There are so many directions taken here that I
would not be exaggerating by saying that I could put
up one blog post a week for at least a year dedicated
to this book. Lawrence explores human connections,
the duality inherent in the universe, the battle for
dominance in relationships, varying metaphysical
views of God and the Universe, the effects of
modernity upon the human soul, the difference
between intellectualism and practical happiness, the
psychology of sex, and on and on and on!

The characters are complex and multifaceted.

Strangely, at times they seem almost more complex
than real people! Most possess a lot of admirable traits
as well as dark sides to their personas that
complement what seems to be a theme of universal
dualism throughout the book.

While I stayed away from reading any criticism or

analysis of this book up until now, I did read a bit
about Lawrences personal beliefs and philosophies. I
found expressions of many of these ideas in this novel.
However, I was surprised to learn that in his later
writings many claim that Lawrence trended toward a
pro fascist opinion. I found that set of beliefs to be
uncharacteristic of this novel. Furthermore, many
contend that Lawrences later works have misogynistic
tendencies. This is shocking as The Rainbow contains
several intelligent, strong, multifaceted and complex
female characters. The novel also champions fairly
strong feminist themes. If what I have read is accurate
concerning the later works, then at some point
Lawrences thinking took a radically different turn.

The philosophy and themes expressed in this book are

indeed radical. This work is paradoxically an attack on
both modernity and convention. First, industrialization
is portrayed as horrendous evil. Again and again,
mines, modern buildings, railroads, canals, etc. are
portrayed as blights upon the beauty and the
goodness of nature and poison to the human
psyche. Group thinking is excoriated. War, militarism
and patriotism are painted as unnatural and harmful to
humanity. Democracy and capitalism are also
dismissed as being inferior to a system dominated by
a landed aristocracy. A rural agrarian society is shown
to be ideal.

The attack upon convention is exemplified by

Lawrences, through his characters, criticism of
institutions such as marriage as well as the trend of
professionals and tradesman taking on the identity of
their title or trade. Individuals who reject societys
restrictions and categories and who retain their
natural states of being and thinking are shown to
reach true happiness. The book strongly expounds the
idea that humans can only reach an ideal if we return
to nature and our animal selves and reject oppressive
and overbearing modern societies. Lawrence also
expresses elitist tendencies as his intelligent and
sensitive characters are always keeping themselves
apart from the masses and often represented as being
unconcerned regarding what outsiders think of them.

Of course, I find these philosophies to be too

monolithic. Lawrence practices a way of thinking that I
often describe as turning insights into dogma. The
modern world has enormous pitfalls and contains
terrible strains of evil, but Lawrence fails to see its
attributes. However, I believe that Lawrences insights,
while not universal, are very, very important. The
Rainbow was first published in 1915. In what seems like
an eerie prescience, Lawrence seems to anticipate the
hyper organized societies of Hitler and Stalin, global
wars, genocides and mass slaughters of human beings
that raged throughout the Twentieth Century. These
man made catastrophes were at least partially
attributed to the technology, mindless group thinking,
militarism and nationalism that Lawrence warned
about in this work. In additional he also was a very
early voice of caution in regards to the environmental
consequences of industrialization that now poses a
threat to humans as a species. Lawrence does not
directly predict these horrors, but throughout the book
there is a sense that something poisonous is building
up in our souls and this planet and that there will be
terrible consequences for humanity.

I also do personally relate to and agree with some, but

not all, of what Lawrence has to say. I, too, strongly
distrust nationalism and militarism. Though a firm
supporter of democracy, I also share a wariness of the
unthinking and fickle masses as well as popular
opinion. I am also aghast, as Lawrence was, as to what
industrialism has done and continues to do to this

In my opinion Lawrence achieves artistic magnificence

when he weaves these themes into a character that is
one of the most aesthetically brilliant literary creations
of all time. I was not originally going to write much on
Ursula in this blog entry, as she is also featured in The
Rainbows sequel, Women in Love, which I plan to begin
shortly. However, I have decided that Ursula is such a
dynamic and richly pained character that I must
discuss her a bit here. Born of Will and
Anna Brangwen, Ursula is anything but simplistic or
clichd. One might expect her to start out as an
innocent conformist. This is not the case. Early on she
shows herself to be intelligent as well as independent.
She fights societys conventions and restrictions
almost from the beginning. She is the first of
the Brangwen women to lose her virginity before
marriage and at one point takes on a female lover. She
bristles at the restrictions that she suffers in a mans
world and sets out to enhance her education and build
a career. Interestingly she loves Shakespeares As
You Like It, a play that contains another incredibly
dynamic and freethinking woman, Rosalind.

But Ursula struggles with herself as well as with

society. For a time she works as a teacher under
terribly oppressive and constraining conditions,
surrounded by petty, mean and small-minded people.
Though she attempts to keep her ties to nature, her
true self and her soul intact, she feels the situation
changing her,

Yet gradually she felt the invincible iron closing upon

her. The sun was being blocked out. Often when she
went out at playtime and saw a luminous blue sky
with changing clouds, it seemed just a fantasy, like a
piece of painted scenery. Her heart was so black and
tangled in the teaching, her personal self was shut in
prison, abolished, she was subjugate to a bad,
destructive will. How then could the sky be shining?
There was no sky, there was no luminous atmosphere
of out-of-doors. Only the inside of the school was real
hard, concrete, real and vicious.

To Lawrence, modern society is the destroyer of souls.

Ursula goes through several epiphanies, believing that

she has broken through into a being not affected by
the petty and malevolence of the world, only to find
herself being pulled into old habits again. She is
constantly attempting to fight the insidious effects of
industrialism, institutions and conventions upon

She takes Anton Skrebensky, a lover and eventual

fianc. Lawrence is so very nuanced here. He is no
villain, as some writers would have portrayed such a
character. Though somewhat shallow, he is very
sympathetic, he is kind, gentle and passionately in
love with Ursula. However he is a man of the modern
world and a danger to Ursulas soul. He believes in
democracy, patriotism and sacrifice in the name of
national causes. He states simply,

"I belong to the nation and must do my duty by the


Ursulas behavior toward her betrothed is horrendous.

She is both passionately in love with him, yet feels the
need to escape him and what he represents. She
vacillates between intense passion and rejection and
literally tortures Skrebensky with the hot and cold

Ursula eventually comes to what seems be

enlightenment. She breaks all mental and spiritual ties
with the corrupt and pernicious aspects of humanity
and society. She completely realizes her natural and
animalistic self. Lawrence often describes these
tendencies in Anna as dark and associates them with
moonlight. This path to human renewal is a dark one.
She becomes what for Lawrence is an ideal human
being and there is a suggestion that she will lead the
way for others. Both Ursula and her mother, Anna, see
this perfect life and path for humanity as being
symbolized by a rainbow, hence the title of the book.

Ursula is certainly a superb literary creation. Though I

do not agree exactly where Lawrence has gone with
her as well as where he has arrived at with his
ideology, this novel is a brilliant achievement.

As I alluded to above, I will begin reading the sequel to

this book, Women in Love. Though I have heard that it is a
superb novel, I almost wish that it did not exist. The
Rainbow is such an esthetically satisfying work that it
seems complete. Ursulas final epiphany is so very
perfect that I feel that all that needs to be said about
her has been said. We shall see what the sequel