Posts Tagged ‘The Rainbow’

“Women in Love” by D. H. Lawrence

Note: I suppose I should preface this post with what is known as a “spoiler warning”, as it is impossible to discuss this novel even superficially without mentioning certain particulars of its plot, such as it is. However, this novel is not by any stretch of the imagination a plot-driven novel, and the question “what happens next” is not what keeps the reader reading. As such, any prior knowledge of what the plot offers does not, in my opinion, detract from the experience of the novel in any way, even for the first time reader. But if you haven’t yet read this novel, and are planning to, and would prefer not to know what happens next, it’s probably best to give this post a miss.

Towards the end of Women in Love, shortly before the narrative hurtles towards its catastrophic climax, Lawrence treats us to a scene of rare comedy. Gudrun and Gerald, on their way to an Alpine resort, are in a smart London café, the Pompadour, and at a nearby table sit some people they know from the arty, bohemian set. These people are laughing very loudly: they are much amused by the rather absurd figure of Rupert Birkin, who is absent from this scene, and who is a friend of Gerald’s, and, at this stage of the novel, the husband of Gudrun’s sister Ursula. Birkin, a thinly disguised portrait of Lawrence himself, feels things very passionately, and speaks his mind openly and frankly. And he speaks about things that matter to him, things that are, to him, of vital importance: love, mortality, sex, passion, our place in the universe, the future of humanity itself – in short, all those things one normally doesn’t talk about in polite society, except perhaps superficially. These people find Birkin’s po-faced earnestness dreadfully funny. One of them produces a letter Birkin has written, and, to everyone’s great amusement, starts to read it aloud. Gudrun, who has never herself been particularly close to Birkin, is nonetheless irritated, and offended on his behalf. Why does he write to these people? she asks herself. Why does he so expose his very soul to their superficial jeers? Eventually, she walks up to them, and asks if the letter is genuine. Oh yes, they tell her, perfectly genuine. “May I see?” Keen, perhaps, to share the joke with her, they hand her the letter, whereupon she politely thanks them, and calmly walks out of the café, letter in hand.

It is a surprising scene in many ways. For one, it displays a comic streak in Lawrence’s make-up that I, for one, had not suspected. But more intriguingly, I think, it indicates that Lawrence knew perfectly well how his work was likely to be received in many quarters, of the mockery and laughter his earnestness would invite. And, at that specific moment, I understood Gudrun. At other times in the novel, I found it difficult to enter her mind – to relate to her, to use current book-group parlance. But at that moment, I could very much relate to her: for Lawrence’s earnestness, his seriousness of purpose, his very intense perceptions of this world, whether one sympathises with them or not, are not things to be jeered at. Quite the opposite: in times such as ours when superficiality is so prized, these are things to be thankful for.

For this novel, like its predecessor The Rainbow, is unashamedly about serious matters. It is not surprising that Lawrence’s stock, which was so high back in the 60s and 70s, has now fallen: modern taste prefers its serious dough to be leavened with a bit of wit and humour and a lightness of touch, but Lawrence will have none of it. Even if it meant appearing ridiculous.

The four protagonists of this novel are all driven by ideas. They speak about these ideas openly to each other, baring their very souls in a manner many readers find disconcerting. Of course, it may be objected, people in real life don’t speak like this, but that seems to me a pointless criticism: people don’t speak to each other in Jamesian prose either, nor in Shakespearean blank verse, but that does not prevent us appreciating The Wings of the Dove or Othello.  Lawrence was not aiming for photographic realism, any more than Henry James or Shakespeare were. The realism he was aiming for was clearly of a different order, and, in order to get closer to it than I have previously managed, I had, I felt, to trust the author, to put behind me my modern impatience with high seriousness. Better at least to be Gudrun in the Pompadour than that arty bohemian set ridiculing that which they do not even make the attempt to understand.

But, it will be objected, much of what these characters say is meaningless – gibberish, even. Especially much of what Birkin says – and, he, after all, is a self-portrait, and hence, Lawrence’s mouthpiece. What’s he on about anyway? What exactly is Birkin trying to say? Even to ask such questions is, it seems to me, to misunderstand the nature of the book. For this is a novel, not a tract: it is a book not really about ideas, as such, but about people who are driven by ideas, and this, I think, is an important distinction. The ideas these people have are often inchoate and incoherent, and sometimes even preposterous: none of the characters here has a grand comprehensive message to impart to the world, and neither, I think, does Lawrence himself. But they are all searching, grasping, exploring different possibilities; trying desperately to articulate what they feel so intensely, to pin down that which cannot be pinned down in a world in which nothing seems solid; failing, trying again, failing better. They are not consistent: their thoughts ebb and flow depending on their state of being, whom they are with, and any number of other factors. And they come into conflict with each other – often bitter conflict. There is no lovers’ tiff in literature to compare with the ones Ursula has with Birkin:

‘This is a degrading exhibition,’ he said coolly.

‘Yes, degrading indeed,’ she said. ‘But more to me than to you.’

‘Since you choose to degrade yourself,’ he said. Again the flash came over her face, the yellow lights concentrated in her eyes.

You!‘ she cried. ‘You! You truth-lover! You purity-monger! It stinks, your truth and your purity. It stinks of the offal you feed on, you scavenger dog, you eater of corpses. You are foul, foul, and you must know it. Your purity, your candour, your goodness—yes, thank you, we’ve had some. What you are is a foul, deathly thing, obscene, that’s what you are, obscene and perverse. You, and love! You may well say, you don’t want love. No, you want yourself, and dirt, and death—that’s what you want. You are so perverse, so death-eating. And then—’

And even by the end, as those startling final lines make clear, the conflicts aren’t resolved. Resolving conflicts, presenting clear, reasoned arguments, conveying a coherent message – not only are these all beside the point, they are quite antithetical to the heart of the matter. For it is not really the ideas that matter: the novel is far, far more than the sum of its characters’ ideas, such as they are. What this novel depicts is people locked in these ideas, in conflict with them and with each other, struggling desperately to find something they know not what. It is a depiction of four very different people struggling to make some sort of sense of their lives.

Much of this had emerged also in The Rainbow, but Women in Love, we know almost from the first sentence, places us in a world which, though physically the same as the world presented earlier and featuring some of the same characters, inhabits a very different fictional landscape. The Rainbow had taken the form of a sort of family saga: not a traditional family saga, perhaps, but the links with tradition were still visible in the depiction of the majestic progress of generations succeeding and supplanting each other. But here, the break with tradition is more apparent. The novel opens with two sisters discussing marriage, and we could be in Middlemarch say; but these sisters seem already weary with the world; from the very start, they seem to have no illusions to lose:

“Don’t you find yourself getting bored?” she asked of her sister. “Don’t you find that things fail to materialize? Nothing materializes! Everything withers in the bud.”

“What withers in the bud?” asked Ursula.

“Oh, everything – oneself – things in general.” There was a pause, while each sister vaguely considered her fate.

What it takes Dorothea Brooke bitter experience to realise, these sisters seem already to know. But vaguely, only vaguely. Everything in this novel is in a state of flux: nothing can be pinned down for sure.

Soon, the men are introduced to complete the quartet: there’s Rupert Birkin, a school inspector; and Gerald Crich, eldest son of the family that owns the local coal mines. All these characters are on edge in their different ways, their nerves frayed.

Gerald is energetic and powerful, and manages the coal mine with a ruthless efficiency. And he is masterful: he is determined to master the world around him into usefulness, as he has mastered the coal-mines. When his horse is frightened by passing of a train, Gerald pits his will against the horse’s, forcing the creature to stand by the tracks despite its intense terror. (This episode of Gerald attempting to impose his will on the horse may remind the reader of Vronsky in Anna Karenina: for all their obvious differences, Tolstoy and Lawrence do cross paths at times in quite surprising ways.) As Ursula says, Gerald has “plenty of go”. But then, Gudrun asks ominously, “where does his go go to, what becomes of it?” As the novel progresses, this question resounds more insistently: Gerald has go, yes, but seems aware of a profound emptiness within himself. It is here his mastery stops: he is frightened even to look inside.

When he had been a boy, we are told, he had accidentally killed his brother with a gun he hadn’t realised was loaded. The sisters disagree about the import of this incident:

‘Perhaps there was an unconscious will behind it,’ said Ursula. ‘This playing at killing has some primitive desire for killing in it, don’t you think?’

‘Desire!’ said Gudrun, coldly, stiffening a little. ‘I can’t see that they were even playing at killing. I suppose one boy said to the other, “You look down the barrel while I pull the trigger, and see what happens.” It seems to me the purest form of accident.’

‘No,’ said Ursula. ‘I couldn’t pull the trigger of the emptiest gun in the world, not if some-one were looking down the barrel. One instinctively doesn’t do it—one can’t.’

Gudrun was silent for some moments, in sharp disagreement.

The incident is reported rather than depicted, and the reader has to decide which of the two sisters is nearer the truth – to what extent, indeed, Gerald may have had, or has still, the desire to kill.

He certainly desires Gudrun. Immediately following the death of his father, unable to make sense of the great mystery he has witnessed, his mind in turmoil and only half aware of what he is doing, he finds his way into the Brangwens’ family home at night, and presents himself in Gudrun’s bedroom. He does not know why he has come, why he has so risked being caught. “What do you want of me?” Gudrun asks, in a voice described as “estranged”.

“I came – because I must,” he said. “Why do you ask?”

She looked at him in doubt and wonder.

“I must ask,” she said.

“There is no answer,” he replied, with strange vacancy.

Gudrun takes pity on him, and they become lovers, but pity is hardly an adequate basis to satisfy the needs and desires of these people, needs and desires the nature of which they cannot even begin to articulate, even to themselves. And that “strange vacancy” within Gerald becomes ever more apparent: where, indeed, does all that go go to? The question resounds all the more strongly in the final section of the novel, set in an Alpine resort, where, surrounded on all sides by blank walls of icy whiteness, Gerald, now openly despised by Gudrun, finds that there really is nowhere for that go to go to: it can only turn in upon itself, and embrace death, the icy chill of the outside world reflecting the icy chill of his own inner emptiness.

As in Anna Karenina, the strand of this tragic couple is intertwined with a strand featuring a happier couple – Ursula Brangwen and Rupert Birkin; but, also as in Anna Karenina, happiness, if such it is, is a complex thing: it is not final, it is not absolute, for nothing here can be final or absolute: they are forever locked in conflict, Ursula disagreeing with and fighting bitterly virtually everything Birkin says, everything that is important to him. But this conflict does not imply unhappiness, or even incompatibility, for in this of all novels, people’s motives, the dark roots of their words and their actions, remain inscrutable and mysterious, and elude comprehension: these people don’t themselves understand why they say or act as they do. When questioned, they can only answer, as Gerald does to Gudrun, “there is no answer”. Birkin knows that the life he leads is hateful, and that there must be an alternative: he wants something, but does not know what. He is fumbling, feeling his way, shattering the placid reflection of the moon in the water only to see the broken fragments of that shattered reflection forever re-establishing themselves. He needs the opposition that Ursula presents. But he is aware, as indeed, are the other three of the quartet in their own way, that there is something irredeemably rotten about the life he lives, and the life everyone else lives, and, indeed, the very world he lives in: something else must at least be searched for, even if it is not found. Several times he muses on a world in which humans have ceased to be, and wonders if this will necessarily be a bad thing: won’t something better than humans replace us? Life won’t stop just because we have, after all. And even if nothing should replace us, why not leave the world to the birds? He finds this curiously comforting.

And yet he is not depressed, or in any way depressive. For all his dissatisfaction, he loves life too much. It is, one suspects, precisely because he loves life so much that he cannot endure its imperfections, its shortcomings – that he must always be searching for new ways of being. And in Ursula, too, as we know from those ecstatic closing chapters of The Rainbow, runs some mysterious vital force, that same force that in the earlier novel had so frightened Anton Skrebansky. And so the two remain at the end of the novel, together, happy (if we allow ourselves to use that word), but locked nonetheless with each other in an unending conflict.

At the end of the novel, Rupert weeps for the dead Gerald. They had brought his body back from the cold waste of snow and ice, curled up and frozen: they had to wait for the body to thaw before they could straighten him. And Rupert weeps.

“He should have loved me,” he said. “I offered him.”

It is not merely, or even perhaps primarily, Gerald’s death that Rupert laments, but that emptiness, that “strange vacancy” inside Gerald, that prevented him from accepting, let alone returning, Rupert’s offered love. Rupert contemplates the inert mass that had once been Gerald:

Birkin looked at the pale fingers, the inert mass. He remembered a dead stallion he had seen: a dead mass of maleness, repugnant. He remembered also the beautiful face of one whom he had loved, and who had died still having the faith to yield to the mystery. That dead face was beautiful, no one could call it cold, mute, material. No one could remember it without gaining faith in the mystery, without the soul’s warming with new, deep life-trust.

And Gerald! The denier! He left the heart cold, frozen, hardly able to beat. Gerald’s father had looked wistful, to break the heart: but not this last terrible look of cold, mute Matter. Birkin watched and watched.

Again, like Tolstoy, Lawrence had a fascination not only with death, but with also the physical nature of that great mystery, that ultimate loss of human consciousness, and that inexplicable transformation of a vital force into matter (here strikingly capitalised).

Birkin had on several occasions protested that it was not love that he wanted; or at least, that love was not enough. But he had loved Gerald, and Gerald had succumbed to the blankness that was death without having accepted it, without being capable even of accepting it. And it is this Birkin laments – this “strange vacancy” in Gerald, all that go that ultimately had nowhere else to go to.

No degree of familiarity could ever reduce this great mystery of death, and here, Lawrence presents it with a terror and a grandeur that belongs only to the greatest of tragic works. But this is not the end. In the very last page, Birkin tries to express to Ursula why he had wanted Gerald’s love: she is all that he craves for in a woman, he says, but he wanted a love with a man that would be equally powerful, equally important. We may or may not interpret this as homosexual love: it hardly matters. Ursula replies that what Birkin wants is unreasonable; that he cannot have such a love because it is impossible. “I do not believe that,” says Birkin, and on that fractious note this mighty novel ends.


Reading Lawrence is not easy, but I suppose one should expect it to be easy in the first place. As with any work of literature that is worth one’s attention, it attempts to express that which language is not really designed to express, and in the process, language is stretched to its limits, and it sometimes fractures. Lawrence is not afraid to take risks; he isn’t even afraid to be thought absurd. One may, as that arty set at the Pompadour café, find it all merely ridiculous – and, to judge from various comments I have seen on the net that pass as “reviews”, the Pompadour set are still very much with us. Well, one can’t dictate how readers should feel about any novel. I still find Lawrence extremely difficult, but on loosening my scepticism and my resistance, trusting him as an author, and going, as it were, with the flow, I found here a fearsome tragic magnificence, and a sense of some great and irreducible mystery. Lawrence may be troublesome, but he is worth the trouble.

“The Rainbow” by D. H. Lawrence

Some time ago, I wrote a post describing my reactions to The Rainbow when I was some half way through it. I finished the novel a few weeks ago, and frankly confess that I find it difficult to write about. But, for anyone interested, this is the best I could do to record my impressions of this very difficult and elusive, but ultimately rewarding, novel.

In the latter part of The Rainbow, the image of a widening circle assumes particular significance. That Lawrence should give such importance to that term – using it not once but twice as chapter heading – should perhaps cause us to ponder the significance he attached to it.

In one sense, this image of a widening circle seems obvious enough: the latter half of The Rainbow is, in effect, a bildungsroman, and, as the protagonist grows up, “the widening circle” is an apt term to describe the inevitable broadening of the protagonist’s horizons. The horizons are many: social, psychological, moral. However, this particular bildungsroman is but part of a larger structure, and if we consider what the “widening circle” may betoken in terms of this larger structure, we move, I think, beyond the conventions of the traditional bildungsroman.  For Ursula, the protagonist of the latter half of the novel, is of the third generation of characters depicted: in each of the two earlier generations, Lawrence had shown couples engaged in struggles of the spirit – first, Tom Brangwen with the Polish lady Lydia; and then, Anna Lensky, Lydia’s daughter from her first marriage, with Will. Now it is the turn of Ursula to open her consciousness to, and engage with, this dreadful but vital business of living. And her world is one broader than those the previous generations had inhabited: the circle widens not merely for the growing Ursula: it widens also from generation to generation.

With Tom and Lydia, after initial impasse, there had come an understanding. This understanding comes in a remarkable moment: Lydia takes her husband by surprise first of all by intuiting that he does not wish to be in her company; and then, by asking seriously and without rancour, as if she weren’t married to him at all, whether he wants another woman.

Suddenly, in a flash, he saw she might be lonely, isolated, unsure. She had seemed to him utterly certain, satisfied, absolute, excluding him. Could she need anything?

This new understanding that it was she, and not he, who was the more insecure, the more uncertain, the more frightened, opens a new stage in their relationship. And Anna, Lydia’s daughter and favourite of her adopted father, perceives this:

Anna’s soul was put at peace between them. She looked from one to the other, and she saw them established to her safety, and she was free. She played between the pillar of fire and the pillar of cloud in confidence, having the assurance on her right hand and the assurance on her left. She was no longer called upon to uphold with her childish might the broken end of the arch. Her father and her mother now met to the span of the heavens, and she, the child, was free to play in the space beneath, between.

It is often debated whether fiction has ever depicted a happy marriage: perhaps commentators ought to consider the relationship that develops between Tom and Lydia, the consummation of their spirits celebrated under the arch of the rainbow, that ancient symbol of God’s covenant with mankind.

But for future generations, things are different: with each succeeding generation, the circle widens. Anna and Tom, almost from the start, find themselves locked in the most dreadful conflict. There have been novels before depicting marital conflict: indeed, given that each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way, novelists have found no end of rich material in this theme. But Lawrence, in his depiction of this difficult marriage takes us into new and, I think, hitherto uncharted regions. And Lawrence knew it. During the writing of The Rainbow, he wrote to Edward Garnett:

It’s all crude as yet … but I think it’s great – so new, so really a stratum deeper than I think anybody has ever gone in a novel.

It was a bold claim to make. Compared to drama or to poetry, the novel was still a relatively new form, but already its achievements were considerable: nineteenth century novels, especially those of England and France, had anatomised society and human consciousness to quite extraordinary depth, while Russian novels, appearing then in Constance Garnett’s translations, must have seemed to open up entire new vistas. And yet, Lawrence was confident that he was delving “a stratum deeper”: it’s an interesting image to employ. He was delving beyond the consciousness itself. And he knew it. He was depicting those forces that operate beneath our consciousness, those forces that are so very elusive and nebulous in their nature, the ebb and flow of which are so fleeting and so intangible as to seem scarcely intelligible. Indeed, the reader may choose to question the very existence of these subterraneous forces. But in Lawrence’s world, they exist: here, heaven and earth are teeming about us.

If Middlemarch is permeated with moral concerns, The Rainbow, in contrast, is more religious than moral in feel. Not, perhaps, religious in a conventional sense – although Lawrence has no compunction in using such words as “God” or “soul”; but religious in that it is aware of presences both in the heaven and the earth that is teeming about these characters, and also in their own selves. In the chapter entitled “The Cathedral”, Anna and Will, locked seemingly in a mortal combat the terms of which are never clear, even or perhaps especially to themselves, visit Lincoln Cathedral. Will, deeply attached emotionally to certain values of an ordered spirituality that is represented by the cathedral, is excited, and, indeed, moved. But Anna, realising that the cathedral and what it represents have a special significance for her husband, but without being able to specify precisely what that significance is, rebels precisely against those very values: all she takes delight in is a carved face, a “plump, sly, malicious little face carved in stone”, which she insists must have been the sculptor’s wife:

“You hate to think he put his wife in your cathedral, don’t you?” she mocked, with a tinkle of profane laughter. And she laughed with malicious triumph.

She had got free from the cathedral, she had even destroyed the passion he had. She was glad. He was bitterly angry. Strive as he would, he could not keep the cathedral wonderful to him. He was disillusioned. That which had been his absolute, containing all heaven and earth, was become to him as to her, a shapely heap of dead matter – but dead, dead.

The conflict between the two is terrible, and the language used to describe it is intense, extreme. Some readers may even find embarrassing language of such passionate intensity, and find it over-written; or they may recoil from such scenes as that in which the pregnant Anna dances naked in her room to her unseen gods; but for Lawrence, those dark regions beneath our everyday consciousness could not be depicted any other way. The conflict between Anna and Will, unlike that between Lydia and Tom of the previous generation, cannot be resolved: but eventually, they learn to live with that conflict remaining unresolved. As the previous generation passes away, Anna and Will produce children, become old. And though their conflict remains unresolved, its rawness diminishes, and they discover, possibly to their own surprise, a strange sort of respect for each other:

Anna was not publicly proud of him. But very soon she learned to be indifferent to public life. He was not what is called a manly man: he did not drink or smoke or arrogate importance. But he was her man, and his very indifference to all claims of manliness set her supreme in her own world with him. Physically, she loved him and he satisfied her. He went alone and subsidiary always. At first it had irritated her, the outer world existed so little to him. Looking at him with outside eyes, she was inclined to sneer at him. But her sneer changed to a sort of respect. She respected him, that he could serve her so simply and completely.

Not for them God’s covenant of the rainbow, but “a sort of respect” nonetheless. And that’s something. Soon, the narrative focus moves on to the third generation – to the growing consciousness of Ursula.

Lawrence is often accused of misogyny. I am generally not very interested in the writer’s biography, although, from what little I know of Lawrence the man, I doubt he ever held consistently the various views frequently ascribed to him. But the writing is all that matters, as it is, after all, all that is left of him; and I doubt I have read quite so sensitive rendering, even by female writers, of the awakening and the early development of a woman’s mind. There is one chapter in which Lawrence appears, for a while at least, to return to the concerns of a more traditional realist novel: in this chapter, Ursula, still herself a teenager, takes a step that women in previous generations had not even considered for themselves – she takes a job, teaching at the local state school. And in this job, she has to face the hostility not only of the children, but also of the rest of the staff, and, particularly, of the head teacher who has taken a dislike to her. Eventually, she establishes herself by thrashing a particularly recalcitrant boy – a boy who, she later learns, has a heart condition. She achieves a material victory by doing so, but is aware that somewhere underneath, something valuable has been lost. It is a wonderful chapter, and could have made a superb free-standing short story; but somehow, one can’t help feeling that this shift in focus, even for a single chapter, on to the surface of things rather than on the dark depths below, is, in the wider context, a little out of place.

But Lawrence soon returns to the “deeper stratum”: he is now depicting the third generation, and the circle is ever widening:

That which she was, positively, was dark and unrevealed, it could not come forth. It was like a seed buried in dry ash. This world in which she lived was like a circle lighted by a lamp. This lighted area, lit up by man’s completest consciousness, she thought was all the world: that here all was disclosed for ever. Yet all the time, within the darkness she had been aware of points of light, like the eyes of wild beasts, gleaming, penetrating, vanishing. And her soul had acknowledged in a great heave of terror only the outer darkness. This inner circle of light in which she lived and moved, wherein the trains rushed and the factories ground out their machine-produce and the plants and the animals worked by the light of science and knowledge, suddenly it seemed like the area under an arc-lamp, wherein the moths and children played in the security of blinding light, not even knowing there was any darkness, because they stayed in the light.

Ursula’s consciousness too is a widening circle, widening from the security of regions well-lit into the areas of darkness. And Lawrence, who, we know from Sons and Lovers, was a writer of prose of the highest order, here stretches the language, twists it into new shapes, bends it till it strains and stresses and approaches breaking point, in order to force it to express what it is not normally capable of expressing. Sometimes, it doesn’t work, but the attempt to express is as important as the expression itself. And the point, in any case, is not to pin something down, but, rather, to give a sense of something that cannot be pinned down, a sense of its ceaseless flow. Whatever it is, of course.

The final part of the novel deals with Ursula’s relationship with the young officer, Anton Skrebensky.  Ursula herself is unsure of a future with Anton: his powerful sense of will, his strictly empirical rationality, do not allow even for an acknowledgement of anything beyond the immediate circle of light. When she first rejects him, he, despite his manliness, weeps. But they come together again, and the climactic point of the novel is reached in a sexual encounter on the dunes in which the seemingly inexpressible is expressed in terms so vivid and startling as to defy paraphrase. It is in this encounter that Anton senses that Ursula’s consciousness has widened into circles of darkness that are beyond his ken: his conception of his very self is threatened, and he, who had wept when she had first rejected him, now retreats from her in fear. The first couple depicted in the novel, Tom and Lydia, had reached a harmony under an overarching rainbow; the second couple, Anna and Will, had been locked in conflict, but had reached, nonetheless, an accommodation; but with Ursula and Anton, the circle has widened to its utmost extent and has broken: there can be no future together for them.

The closing lines are magnificent in their visionary splendour. Ursula, now alone, sees the ugly little dwelling of miners scarring the earth, and the miners themselves, “their stiffened bodies … which seemed already enclosed in a coffin”, their eyes “the eyes of those who are buried alive”. But then:

… in the blowing clouds, she saw a band of faint iridescence colouring in faint colours a portion of the hill. And forgetting, startled, she looked for the hovering colour and saw a rainbow forming itself. In one place it gleamed fiercely, and, her heart anguished with hope, she sought the shadow of iris where the bow should be. Steadily the colour gathered, mysteriously, from nowhere, it took presence upon itself, there was a faint, vast rainbow. The arc bended and strengthened itself till it arched indomitable, making great architecture of light and colour and the space of heaven, its pedestals luminous in the corruption of new houses on the low hill, its arch the top of heaven.

Lawrence isn’t finished:

And the rainbow stood upon the earth.

There are certain things I find in books that, for reasons I cannot begin even to analyse, thrill. This is one of them. Were I a better critic than I often pretend to be, I’d be able to analyse why this seemingly simple line makes on me so powerful an impact: but I cannot. So let us leave it there.