Tuesday, March 1, 2011

D.H. Lawrence

March, 2011: "Dearest Lucy, happy 18th [decorated with a shower of sparks], love from Errol and Mumma xxoxx....etc 31.7.'92 [in a hand-drawn banner held up by two penguins]". I've been going through my books (too many of them), trying to prune them down. But it's a wrench to get rid of books that have been inscribed by my parents. Thankfully, my father didn't inscribe the twenty-three volumes of Rudyard Kipling's complete works that he gave me one birthday - presented to me by a convoy of him and my youngest brother bearing bulging plastic bags (plastic bags are our wrapping paper on that side of the family). I'm afraid the complete Rudyard Kipling will not remain on my shelf. He is too patchy. Mumma and Errol gave me D.H. Lawrence's The Rainbow (1915) for my eighteenth birthday. It won't be going. I remembered liking it at the time, so reread it as part of my D.H. Lawrence exploration.

The story follows an emotional thread, starting with the relationship between Tom Brangwen and Lydia Lensky, then going down a generation to Lydia's daughter (to her first husband), Anna, and her relationship with her husband, another Brangwen, Will. Part Three of the novel follows Anna and Will's daughter, Ursula. The drama of the novel takes place inside each character; outside, life trots along routinely. That's the case with most of us, most of our lives - not much happens, yet, every week is a tumultuous working-through of the various forces coming into or going out of our emotional lives. This is what D.H. Lawrence writes about, in intimate, unapologetic detail. I kept having to remind myself (sexistly) "And a man wrote this!" Most of us feel a bit ashamed of the tumult that is wrought upon our lives by the relationships that we have with those around us, and only keep a few trusted confidantes abreast of all the latest developments. But D.H. Lawrence declares, "This - the emotional life - is the most significant part of our lives, and anyone who disagrees is deprived!"

There's a lot of drama - veering from joy to hatred to grief to contentment - in his descriptions of his characters' emotional lives. For me, this is how relationships actually are. They are never still. Here is one bit that brought back all the horror of sharing (or not sharing) a bed with someone:

She could not sleep with him any more. She said he destroyed her sleep. Up started all his frenzy and madness of fear and suffering. She drove him away. Like a cowed, lurking devil, he was driven off, his mind working cunningly against her, devising evil for her. But she drove him off. In his moments of intensest suffering, she seemed to him inconceivable, a monster, the principle of cruelty.

However her pity might give way for a few moments, she was hard and cold as a jewel. He must be put off from her, she must sleep alone. She made him a bed in the small room.

And he lay there whipped, his soul whipped almost to death, yet unchanged. He lay in agony of suffering, thrown back into unreality, like a man thrown overboard into a sea, to swim till he sinks, because there is no hold, only a wide, weltering sea.

He did not sleep, save for the white sleep when a thin veil is drawn over the mind. It was not sleep. He was awake, and he was not awake. He could not be alone. He needed to be able to put his arms around her. He could not bear the empty space at his breast, where she used to be. He could not bear it. He felt as if he were suspended in space, held there by the grip of his will. If he relaxed his will, he would fall, fall through endless space, into the bottomless pit, always falling, will-less, helpless, non-existent, just dropping to extinction, falling till the fire off friction had burned out, like a falling star, then nothing, nothing, complete nothing.

He rose in the morning, grey and unreal. And she seemed fond of him again, she seemed to make up to him a little.

"I slept well," she said, with her slightly false brightness. "Did you?"

"All right," he answered.

He would never tell her.

A couple of paragraphs later, she says:

"I don't want to send you away. I want to sleep with you. But I can't sleep, you don't let me sleep."

His blood turned black in his veins.

"What do you mean by such a thing? It's an arrant lie. I don't let you sleep - "

"But you don't. I sleep so well when I'm alone. And I can't sleep when you're there. You do something to me, you put a pressure on my head. And I must sleep, now the child is coming."

"It's something in yourself," he replied, "something wrong in you."

Horrible in the extreme were these nocturnal combats, when all the world was asleep, and they two were alone, alone in the world, and repelling each other. It was hardly to be borne.

I tried to transcribe a big chunk, because the relentless documenting of every passing feeling, every attack and parry, is the whole point of The Rainbow. It is not D.H. Lawrence to say, "Then they got married," and leave the story at that, as if it were an ending. D.H. ends the story with Ursula being single, her love-relationships having played themselves out. To my mind, this is a more fitting point at which to end a story. While I was reading The Rainbow, it made me feel sad that I wasn't on the battlefield of an intertwined relationship; but it also reminded why I'm not. Sometimes I think I might have found a peacefulness that is too lovely to sacrifice for unpeaceful togetherness; most of my twenties I spent in intertwined relationships, full of longing and pettiness (mostly mine), resentment, fury, feelings of being trapped or suppressed, wanting more, wanting it to be better, wanting myself to be sweeter. Also some good feelings...utmost, mutual trust, and an abiding faith in our love. But I don't want to be like that again. And I do tend to pull up sharply and say, "No! No more! I've stopped liking myself." Reading The Rainbow, I think, "Maybe not liking oneself is part of being in a close relationship with someone."