Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Inheritance from the Earth and Generational Passages in D.H. Lawrence's the Rainbow

Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Inheritance from the Earth and Generational Passages in D.H. Lawrence's the Rainbow

Article excerpt

In The Rainbow, Lawrence presents an agrarian familial alternative to industrialism, and demonstrates pastoral tensions with modernization. (1) In this respect, The Rainbow resonates with Michael Squires's The Pastoral Novel: Studies in George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, and D.H. Lawrence. Squires argues that "[t]he pastoral novelist writes sympathetically about the virtues of peasant life and offers the rural world as the best place to locate value because of its unity and simplicity, its intimate communion with nature, and its freedom from sophistication. In part, we might say, the pastoral novel seeks to create a feeling of wholeness in those whose lives have been fragmented in urban centers" (11). The Rainbow (1915), published just a year after the beginning of World War I, uses the backdrop of industrialism to treat feelings of uprootedness and disconnection by working against the grain of this historical moment. In "The Discursive Formations of History in D.H. Lawrence, The Rainbow," Robert Burden writes that Lawrence dates the novel in the late Victorian era to comment on industrialization: "The Rainbow clearly marks its historical intention by a set of dates and references to the period from 1840 to 1905. It covers the coming of the industrial revolution to the Midlands, and the gradual erosion of rural England, represented by the constructions of the canal, the railway, and the coal mine" (325).

I would contend that the industrial setting is precisely one to which Lawrence offers an alternative. If we put Burden's observation into conversation with Engels's interpretation of the effects of industrialism on humanity, we begin to understand precisely how Lawrence reconfigures the family. In The Condition of the Working Class in England, Engels writes that the people in London "rush past one another as if they had nothing in common or were in no way associated with one another. ... The greater the number of people that are packed into a tiny space, the more repulsive and offensive becomes the brutal indifference" (31). Industrialism created an increasing sense of personal isolation. While cities expanded rapidly as countryside dwellers flocked to the city for work, Lawrence's Brangwen family, on the other hand, is completely isolated from the city, and its members work to survive off of and bequeath their land, Marsh Farm, to their children. Read this way, Lawrence's Brangwen family enacts a fantasy of isolation from urbanization and the loneliness characterized by it.

Lawrence describes the Brangwens as "a curious family, a law to themselves, separate from the world, isolated, a small republic set in invisible bounds" (R 97). The Rainbow's psychological underpinnings are demonstrated through its own law--its emphasis on internal responses instead of external social forces. Shifting away from social and external influences in very precise terms, Lawrence responds to the feelings of disconnection produced by industrialization and exacerbated by World War I by presenting its antithesis: the Brangwen family is defined by their internally constructed connection to the earth and to each other. Natural, folial, and animal imagery foster Brangwen fertility, psychological filiation, and emotional complexity.

Mary Ann Melfi suggests that the novel details familial dissociation rather than filiation, arguing that personal history is frustrated by a parental model of disengagement. She writes that Tom Brangwen's children inherit his disregard for memories: "the inner life of memory is not consciously heeded in the Brangwens, who take their cue from their patriarch Tom. ... [T]he result is that, one generation removed from Tom and Lydia, randomness and chaos devolve to a greater degree" (358). Thus for Melfi, the absence of knowledge about one's past is destructive not only for the individual, but also for the family, because a disregard for memory bequeaths a legacy of incapacity to its inheritors.

I suggest, in contrast, the family preserves and even emboldens familial connection through their alliances with the natural world. …

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