The Rainbow came into the world more or less without literary antecedents. Nothing like it had been written before: Lawrence’s novel defined new territories that enabled the representation of human experience to move forward into the modern age…
begins an article in The Guardian by Rachel Cusk, to coincide with some BBC adaptation.
Which obviously made Obooki’s eyes light up with glee.
Lawrence’s radicalism seems here to include:
- his disarming “frankness” (Obooki was reminded of the scene in the Zola novel he’s reading (1885), in which a girl, innocent of such matters, experiences with horror her first period; – no, I don’t think early Lawrence is so very frank)
- “the total significance of self” / self as representation of mankind (though I remain unclear as to the contrast being drawn between this and “Victorian” fiction – self, though, is surely a strong theme throughout all literature – particularly that ever so personal thing, love poetry – though, just for today, I’m prepared to grant you that it began with the Reformation)
- the “generational movement out of a timeless agrarian communality towards the individualism and alienation of life in an industrialised society. This was the movement of history itself; the journey of man out of the fields and into the cities” (which no one had actually noticed in the Victorian Age, particularly not say Dickens or Karl Marx)
- unravel[ling] “the woman question” – “it is the problem of the day,” he wrote, “the establishment of a new relation, or the readjustment of the old one, between men and women” … the achievement of The Rainbow in creating the conditions for such questions to be asked is momentous” (though this had, of course, been a staple of late Victorian fiction from, say, the 1880s on)
- his “prose” (though the piece quoted reminded me enormously of the beginning of Strindberg’s ridiculously over-symbolised novel Getting Married; – I’ve never noticed anything particularly spectacular or interesting about Lawrence’s prose – apart from its Godawfulness as he gets later on in his career)
When speaking of Lawrence’s originality, I think maybe it’s best always to qualify this with the phrase “in England”. Other countries in the world seem to have had far less hang-ups in the first half of the c20th; and their writers to have done far more radical things. Everything you’ll find in Lawrence, you’ll find 50 years before in Zola – apart, that is, from the mystical mumbo-jumbo – but better written, more entertaining, and not all described with a dour humourlessness. (There’s not a joke in the whole of Lawrence’s work; – nothing, I recall, that’s likely even to raise a smile).