The Rainbow by D.H. Lawrence is a novel about three generations of the Brangwen family living in Nottinghamshire. Children are born, children grow up, children get married, but through all three generations, the Brangwens struggle to feel content within the confinement of English society.
The Rainbow is written in D.H. Lawrence’s usual style; stories of ordinary men and women, regional accents, countryside descriptions of Nottinghamshire and sexual encounters.
Nothing really happens beyond births, love affairs, marriages, and deaths. The book is more focused on characters and relationships, particularly between lovers or spouses. There are quite a few marriages, yet none of them are particularly happy – characters get married quickly out of infatuation, then grow to despise their spouse or manipulate them. This is quite a sad and unfortunate portrayal of marriage.
Lydia Brangwen, then Anna Brangwen, then Ursula Brangwen – the key women of each generation – take about a third of the narrative each, as the book describes how each of them become increasingly unhappy with their role in society.
In particular, Ursula struggles to fit in to society because of the confinements placed upon women. She doesn’t want to stay at home; she wants to work and make something of herself. She also doesn’t seem drawn to the notion of true love or marriage. Subsequently, she finds herself in love affairs that lead nowhere, as she struggles to find fulfilment for her passionate desires. At one point, Ursula even questions whether what she really wants is to just be promiscuous.
Despite the theme of unhappiness and desperation for a purpose in life, which pervades the novel, the book doesn’t offer any answers.
The Rainbow is quite bleak: nobody is ever truly happy and it doesn’t end with a resolution. I probably would not have read it, were it not a book on my university reading list. I’ve read other D.H. Lawrence novels before, such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Sons and Lovers, and for me, The Rainbow does not stand out as much.