Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Germinal, Germination, and the Rainbow

Academic journal article D.H. Lawrence Review

Germinal, Germination, and the Rainbow

Article excerpt

A reader of The Rainbow (1915) and Zola's Germinal, published in 1885 the year of Lawrence's birth, can hardly fail to be struck by parallels. Apart from coal-mining themes, both novels build toward visions of regeneration through motifs of germination. In his absorptive study of French novels Lawrence, like Irving Howe as a young man, no doubt "soak[ed] up [the] experience" of Germinal, with its overwhelming emotional force and "fertility of imagination" (Howe 111). He had read Zola by 1908 (1L 91), three years before publishing his first novel, and Zola's graphic dramatization of danger and disaster in the mines must have impacted his imagination. (1) Zola's passionate "cult of life" and style that "bombards us with sensations" (Walker 42-44, 45), along with his richly "physiological imagination" (Butor 101), would clearly appeal to Lawrence. Irving Howe observes that "the current of [Zola's] narrative boils with energy and novelty. Germinal ends with defeat ... [But] [t]here is simply too much appetite for experience in Zola, too much sympathy and solidarity with the struggles by which men try to declare themselves, too much hope for the generations always on the horizon" (114), for the novel to seem pessimistic. Lawrence was attracted to Zola as one of those writers "[who] express ... the real feelings of the artist." (2) Germinal, the first of several Zola novels he read (see 3L 38), may well have been an underlying source of inspiration for The Rainbow. A linking element is the motif of germination that runs throughout both novels. Lawrence was fascinated with botany in college, but his reading of Zola may have prompted him to draw analogies between the life of plants and human development--all life forms being interconnected. The visionary conclusions with which both novels open outward, instead of seeking narrative closure, show marked affinities in their use of germination imagery to support prophetic stances.

Van Gogh, whose painting Lawrence admired, (3) called Zola "a glorious artist" and found Germinal "splendid," telling Theo: "I had to paint [a head] after reading Germinal." (4) In another letter he responded to Zola's zestful style: "[w]hat [Zola and Maupassant] absolutely insist on is a great richness and a great gaiety in art--even though [they] have said perhaps the most poignantly tragic things that have ever been said" (3: 430)--a perception that parallels Lawrence's opinion that "[t]ragedy ought really to be a great kick at misery" (1L 459). Zola aimed to construct a mythos out of material conditions. "I must react against [analysis]," he wrote, "through the solid reaction of masses ... through the logic, the thrust of the chapters, succeeding each other like superimposed blocks; by the breath of passion, animating all, flowing from one end to another of the work" (qtd. in Howe 120). Zola's novel may have provided a structural model (5) for The Rainbow as a saga-novel that would show, through a wavelike succession of generations, the emergence of a new kind of being. Merleau-Ponty observes that "one painter learns from another, of whom he makes copies . to be himself, learn himself in the other, with and against him"; in writing, "[t] he other's words form a grillwork through which I see my thought" (211, 224). Merleau-Ponty links perception with the unconscious, meaning that "there is a germination of what will have been understood" (189). "Originality" is really creative transformation. Lawrence did not disclose what he gleaned from Germinal, but new perceptions emerge from such dialectical exchanges.

Parallels can be drawn between germination of seeds and various stages or capacities of human development. For Zola and Lawrence, organic growth is the botanical or biological substratum (6) of creative growth, signifying a transition from unconscious to conscious and potential to realization. A textbook defines the botanical process:

Germination of a seed begins with the absorption of water, which greatly increases the volume of the seed. …

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