My “50” project is to read, starting with number 50 and working my way to number one, the top 50 of the top 100 titles on the Modern Library’s top 100 novels list. We’ve created a tag for Dave’s 50 After 50, and you are welcome to read along with me.
As I have committed to reading the top 50 list in reverse order, I seem to be reading the prequel to Women in Love, my last Top 50 title (number 49). Number 48 is The Rainbow by D. H. Lawrence, which introduces the Brangwen sisters, Ursula and Gudrun, near the end of the book.
The book is much different than Women in Love, spanning the Brangwen family for three generations: a period of roughly 65 years from the 1840s to 1905. I love these sort of stories, much like Ken Follet’s two series The Century Trilogy and the Pillars of the Earth/World Without End duology. Multi-generational tales like these guide the reader through the evolution of a family (in the case of The Rainbow) or a community (like Ken Follet above) and give a picture of the forces that shape and grow the family.
In the case of The Rainbow, it begins with the Brangwens as a yeoman class family. Tom knows little of the world outside his couple of small counties. He meets and falls in love with a Polish refugee and widow, Lydia. Her daughter from a previous marriage, Anna, and her husband, Will (the son of one of Tom’s brothers), take up the second part of the tale. They share a tumultuous relationship and it’s their daughter, Ursula (who we recognize from Women in Love), who has the last and longest part of the story. The evolution of the family is the framework that allows Ursula to seek her fulfillment.
Ursula struggles with finding her passion and reconciling it with society, a theme that will be expanded in Women In Love. She seeks love where she feels it, not where she should or shouldn’t find it. This frank depiction of sexual exploration is what caused The Rainbow to be banned for obscenity and caused problems for the later publication of Women In Love.
I enjoyed this title very much due to the sweeping historical overview. Plus, reading along the generations gave me a foundation to appreciate Ursula’s struggles. I probably should have read this one first!
As a work in the United States public domain, The Rainbow is available as a free ebook download from Project Gutenberg.