Novel was ‘too obscene’

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This year is the centenary year of the publication of DH Lawrence’s fourth novel, The Rainbow, which is regarded by many as his masterpiece.

It might be worth urging Eastwood and Kimberley folk to consider reading, or re-reading, this important, groundbreaking work and recalling the astonishing critical reception the book received in 1915.

Imagine that you have written one of the greatest novels of all time, only to find it is prosecuted for obscenity at Bow Street Magistrates Court, with 1,011 copies seized and burned, many of them incinerated in the streets of London by the public hangman. You couldn’t make it up!

Why on earth was this remarkable saga of the Brangwen family, of Marsh Farm, opening with its famous earthy account of man’s direct contact with animals, employing such a remarkable and original approach to characterisation, found to be so offensive to the delicate sensibilities of English officialdom? One reason, of course, is the free and easy, uninhibited sensuality enjoyed by Ursula Brangwen (as Ursula’s individuality develops, she grows into one of the most admirable, independent-minded heroines in literature) in the company of her PE teacher, as they swim together naked at night.

The other stems from Lawrence’s insistence in having a dedication to his sister-in-law on the flyleaf.

At the time of the First World War, there was considerable anti-German feeling in the country and so this tribute to one of the Von Richtoven sisters (whose uncle was the infamous fighter pilot, the Red Baron) must have further antagonised the authorities.

It is little wonder that Lawrence lost faith in his fellow countrymen and became anxious to escape from England.

How fortunate are those who live in Lawrence country that they can have, without travel, the extra pleasure of revelling in the familiar places and names that feature in The Rainbow. What immeasurable pride they must feel for their local hero, whose work is so lauded around the world.

Rainbows are images rich with promise and an active reading of The Rainbow can help us shake off and sweep away the sordidness of modern life and build up a new hope for humanity, based on a more refreshing sense of the truth.