Shame (The Rainbow) – D.H. Lawrence

For today’s Wednesday literature excerpt I present to you another extract from D.H. Lawrence’s book The Rainbow. This book was banned in England for a number of years. I wrote in an earlier article that I didn’t know what the fuss was about and why they banned his book, until I read this latter chapter ‘Shame‘. It introduces not just a lesbian relationship into classic literature, but one where the protagonist Ursula the third generation daughter of the Brangwen family (a student) and her class – mistress Miss Inger become sexually involved. Lawrence’s frank treatment of sexual desire, and the part it plays within relationships as a natural and even spiritual force of life got him banned for obscenity and this might well have been the chapter which did it.

I was labouring over whether to present this excerpt, mainly because I wasn’t sure what approach I would take or if it needed to be told. But I think it does since it illuminates that aforementioned about D.H Lawrence’s willingness to allude to openly presenting how relationships can play out. The philosopher Roger Scruton said – the prevailing theme of Lawrence’s novels is that ” 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.” Scruton believes that The Rainbow vindicates Lawrence’s vision.

So here I present to you a short excerpt of the chapter called ‘Shame’ from D.H.Lawrence’s The Rainbow. It could offend some readers or it might leave one hanging on. I’m afraid the chapter is too long to present here, but plenty of free online versions exist. I ask you not to take this excerpt out of context since Ursula like nearly all of us in our younger adult years struggles to find fulfilment for our passionate, spiritual and sensual nature against the confines. It values self-realization and independence:

Suddenly Ursula found a queer awareness existed between herself and her class-mistress, Miss Inger. The latter was a rather beautiful woman of twenty-eight, a fearless-seeming, clean type of modern girl whose very independence betrays her sorrow. She was clever, and expert in what she did, accurate, quick, commanding.

To Ursula she had always given pleasure, because of her clear, decided, yet graceful appearance. She carried her head high, a little thrown back, and Ursula thought there was a look of nobility in the way she twisted her smooth brown hair upon her head. She always wore clean, attractive, well-fitting blouses, and a well-made skirt. Everything about her was so well-ordered, betraying a fine, clear spirit, that it was a pleasure to sit in her class.

Her voice was just as ringing and clear, and with unwavering, finely-touched modulation. Her eyes were blue, clear, proud, she gave one altogether the sense of a fine-mettled, scrupulously groomed person, and of an unyielding mind. Yet there was an infinite poignancy about her, a great pathos in her lonely, proudly closed mouth.

It was after Skrebensky had gone that there sprang up between the mistress and the girl that strange awareness, then the unspoken intimacy that sometimes connects two people who may never even make each other’s acquaintance. Before, they had always been good friends, in the undistinguished way of the class-room, with the professional relationship of mistress and scholar always present. Now, however, another thing came to pass. When they were in the room together, they were aware of each other, almost to the exclusion of everything else. Winifred Inger felt a hot delight in the lessons when Ursula was present, Ursula felt her whole life begin when Miss Inger came into the room. Then, with the beloved, subtly-intimate teacher present, the girl sat as within the rays of some enrichening sun, whose intoxicating heat poured straight into her veins.

The state of bliss, when Miss Inger was present, was supreme in the girl, but always eager, eager. As she went home, Ursula dreamed of the schoolmistress, made infinite dreams of things she could give her, of how she might make the elder woman adore her.

Miss Inger was a Bachelor of Arts, who had studied at Newnham. She was a clergyman’s daughter, of good family. But what Ursula adored so much was her fine, upright, athletic bearing, and her indomitably proud nature. She was proud and free as a man, yet exquisite as a woman.

The girl’s heart burned in her breast as she set off for school in the morning. So eager was her breast, so glad her feet, to travel towards the beloved. Ah, Miss Inger, how straight and fine was her back, how strong her loins, how calm and free her limbs!

Ursula craved ceaselessly to know if Miss Inger cared for her. As yet no definite sign had been passed between the two. Yet surely, surely Miss Inger loved her too, was fond of her, liked her at least more than the rest of the scholars in the class. Yet she was never certain. It might be that Miss Inger cared nothing for her. And yet, and yet, with blazing heart, Ursula felt that if only she could speak to her, touch her, she would know.

“The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.”- Michel Legrand

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