Today’s Wednesday Literature piece presents a second excerpt from D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. Our first encounter with this book told about how Polish refugee, Lydia is tortured by her inability to register with her new English surrounds and her coming into the presence of a local farmer Tom Brangwem. The book starts with a description of the Brangwen dynasty, and how Tom Brangwen, one of several brothers, fell in love with Lydia. Today’s excerpt moves quite a way ahead to the second major story of three in the novel dealing with Lydia’s daughter, Anna and her battle-riven relationship with her husband, Will Brangwen, the son of one of Tom’s brothers.
The novel focuses on the individual’s struggle to growth and fulfilment within the confining strictures of English social life. Lawrence’s 1920 novel Women in Love is a sequel to The Rainbow. Roger Scruton argued in Sexual Desires (1986) that the prevailing theme of Lawrence’s novels is that “In desiring to unite with [the other sex, we are desiring to mingle with something that is deeply – perhaps essentially – not ourselves, and which brings us to experience a character and inwardness that challenge us with their strangeness.” In 1999, the Modern Library ranked The Rainbow forty-eighth on a list of the 100 best novels in English of the 20th century.
The setting for today’s extract is Anna wedding ceremony with Will Brangwen. What I found most evocative from this part is Stepfather of the bride Tom Brangwen’s perspectives about ageing and what it means to him by getting older. Mind you he’s not that old, just 45, but as he puts it, ‘ Forty-five! In five more years fifty. Then sixty—then seventy—then it was finished. My God—and one still was so unestablished!’. I can definitely can attest to holding that same sentiment. This short excerpt finishes on a much brighter note than what the aforementioned quote might have you believe. Oh and if you like wedding stories told succinctly, you are in for a real treat! So without further or do, please enjoy – Wedding at the Marsh:
The church was decorated for Christmas, dark with evergreens, cold and snowy with white flowers. He (Tom Brangwen) went vaguely down to the altar. How long was it since he had gone to be married himself? He was not sure whether he was going to be married now, or what he had come for. He had a troubled notion that he had to do something or other. He saw his wife’s bonnet, and wondered why she wasn’t there with him.
They stood before the altar. He was staring up at the east window, that glowed intensely, a sort of blue purple: it was deep blue glowing, and some crimson, and little yellow flowers held fast in veins of shadow, in a heavy web of darkness. How it burned alive in radiance among its black web.
“Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” He felt somebody touch him. He started. The words still re-echoed in his memory, but were drawing off.
“Me,” he said hastily.
Anna bent her head and smiled in her veil. How absurd he was.
Brangwen was staring away at the burning blue window at the back of the altar, and wondering vaguely, with pain, if he ever should get old, if he ever should feel arrived and established. He was here at Anna’s wedding. Well, what right had he to feel responsible, like a father? He was still as unsure and unfixed as when he had married himself. His wife and he! With a pang of anguish he realized what uncertainties they both were. He was a man of forty-five. Forty-five! In five more years fifty. Then sixty—then seventy—then it was finished. My God—and one still was so unestablished!
How did one grow old—how could one become confident? He wished he felt older. Why, what difference was there, as far as he felt matured or completed, between him now and him at his own wedding? He might be getting married over again—he and his wife. He felt himself tiny, a little, upright figure on a plain circled round with the immense, roaring sky: he and his wife, two little, upright figures walking across this plain, whilst the heavens shimmered and roared about them. When did one come to an end? In which direction was it finished? There was no end, no finish, only this roaring vast space. Did one never get old, never die? That was the clue. He exulted strangely, with torture. He would go on with his wife, he and she like two children camping in the plains. What was sure but the endless sky? But that was so sure, so boundless.
Still the royal blue colour burned and blazed and sported itself in the web of darkness before him, unwearyingly rich and splendid. How rich and splendid his own life was, red and burning and blazing and sporting itself in the dark meshes of his body: and his wife, how she glowed and burned dark within her meshes! Always it was so unfinished and unformed!
There was a loud noise of the organ. The whole party was trooping to the vestry. There was a blotted, scrawled book—and that young girl putting back her veil in her vanity, and laying her hand with the wedding-ring self-consciously conspicuous, and signing her name proudly because of the vain spectacle she made:
“Anna Theresa Lensky.”
“Anna Theresa Lensky”—what a vain, independent minx she was! The bridegroom, slender in his black swallow-tail and grey trousers, solemn as a young solemn cat, was writing seriously:
That looked more like it.
“Come and sign, father,” cried the imperious young hussy.
“Thomas Brangwen—clumsy-fist,” he said to himself as he signed.
Then his brother, a big, sallow fellow with black side-whiskers wrote:
“How many more Brangwens?” said Tom Brangwen, ashamed of the too-frequent recurrence of his family name.
When they were out again in the sunshine, and he saw the frost hoary and blue among the long grass under the tomb-stones, the holly-berries overhead twinkling scarlet as the bells rang, the yew trees hanging their black, motionless, ragged boughs, everything seemed like a vision.
The marriage party went across the graveyard to the wall, mounted it by the little steps, and descended. Oh, a vain white peacock of a bride perching herself on the top of the wall and giving her hand to the bridegroom on the other side, to be helped down! The vanity of her white, slim, daintily-stepping feet, and her arched neck. And the regal impudence with which she seemed to dismiss them all, the others, parents and wedding guests, as she went with her young husband.