Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Rainbow, as a Female Bildungsroman

Academic journal article Canadian Social Science

The Rainbow, as a Female Bildungsroman

Article excerpt


It is argued in this paper that The Rainbow, about three generations of the Brangwen family, is a female Bildungsroman, which focuses on the growth and initiation experiences of three main female charactersLydia, Anna and Ursula. Moreover, the initiation is completed by three generations altogether. According to Mordecai Marcus(1969), there are three categories of initiation: tentative initiation experience, represented by the first generation of Brangwen family-Lydia; uncompleted initiation experience, the same case with the second generation-Anna; decisive initiation experience, whose spokesperson is the third generation-Ursula. The Rainbow, a book about the family history of the Brangwens, concerns the initiation experiences of three female characters. Based on such considerations, this paper, by means of textual analysis and comparative study, will prove that The Rainbow is a female Bildungsroman presenting the initiation experiences of three female generations of the Brangwen family, and the initiation experience of each female character is varied but closely related, which shows the growth is a complicated and gradual process.

Key words: The Rainbow, Female bildungsroman; Ursula; Self-fulfillment


The publication of The Rainbow is a turning point for Lawrence's writing career. Lawrence once wrote to one of his friends: "Now I am writing a totally different novel" (Wang, 2009, p.l). "I am rather proud of it now" (Edward, 1990, p.l). Since its publication, the critical responses to the novel The Rainbow are somewhat mixed. Some critics think the novel is nothing less than a failure, which brings Lawrence great shame and ruins his reputation. Holdemess argues that the novel "is a radical novel of criticism and protest against the value of Lawrence's contemporary society" (Holdemess, 1992, p.52). While others think it is, alongside with Women in Love, one of his greatest novels. Leavis, the most influential critic in England in the 1950s and 1960s, thinks The Rainbow is "a study of contemporary civilization" (Leavis, 1995, p.120). He also claims: "The Rainbow shows us the transmission of the spiritual heritage in an actual society, and shows it in relation to the general development of civilization" (Leavis, 1995, p. 173).

Edward Engelberg (1963) defines The Rainbow as a modem Bildungsroman in his essay "Escape from the Circles of Experience: D. H. Lawrence 's The Rainbow as a Bildungsroman" because of Ursula's experience. He puts forward the idea that The Rainbow can be viewed as a modern Bildungsroman, but he just focuses on Ursula's psychological experience and did not elaborate systematically and in details, which leaves enough room for my research.

To sum up, Bildungsroman is a kind of literary genre to describe the protagonist's growth and developing experience. It is about moral and psychological growing process of a person or several persons from innocence to maturity as well as self-discovery. In the end, the protagonist finds a suitable place in the society and his or her initiation experience inspires readers to achieve their own epiphany. The protagonist's initiation experience is a gradual process.

The female Bildungsroman is about female protagonist's growth and developing experience, which emphasizes the struggles of female protagonists for their individuality and integration against fragmentation. The male Bildungsroman and its female counterpart are bound to differ in some respects. The main differences are caused by gender. It is female's status in the patriarchal society that determines that female protagonists will meet more difficulties and challenges in their initiation process from innocence to maturity.


Lydia, the first generation of the Brangwen family, is the typical example of tentative initiation experience; she has made some progress in self-discovery, but her exploration for self-recognition and self-consciousness halts on the threshold of maturity, and she hasn't eventually achieved the goal of self-discovery. …

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