Lawrence’s insinuations

Re-reading Lawrence’s The Rainbow, I’m struck by the complexity of his prose movements between the historical and natural worlds, and between those crucial Lawrentian coordinates, the external perceptions and internal emotions of his characters. A passage early in the novel – where Tom Brangwen has proposed marriage to Lydia Lensky – exemplifies something of what strikes me:

‘Yes I want to,’ she said, impersonally, looking at him with wide, candid, newly-opened eyes, opened now with supreme truth. He went very white as he stood, and did not move, only his eyes were held by hers, and he suffered. She seemed to see him with her newly-opened, wide eyes, almost of a child, and with a strange movement, that was agony to him, she reached slowly forward her dark face and her breast to him, with a slow insinuation of a kiss that made something break in his brain, and it was darkness over him for a few moments.

He had her in his arms, and, obliterated, was kissing her. And it was sheer, blenched agony to him, to break away from himself. She was there so small and light and accepting in his arms, like a child, and yet with such an insinuation of embrace, of infinite embrace, that he could not bear it, he could not stand.

(DH Lawrence, The Rainbow, London: Penguin 2000, p. 44)

He is proposing to her; she is, with some momentary confusion, accepting. Lawrence constructs the process and the experience mainly from Tom’s perspective, offering us Lydia’s acceptance as a kind of  ‘insinuation’ into Tom’s life-space. The word ‘insinuation’ is one of many repetitions in this oddly circular passage, working, along with echoing words and phrases like ‘newly-opened’, ‘kiss’ / ‘kissing’, ‘agony to him’, ‘slow’ / ‘slowly’, ‘dark’ / ‘darkened’, ‘like a child’ / ‘of a child’, ‘embrace’, to develop and intensify the emotional closeness – even claustrophobia – of the moment, its physical intimacy.

What does Lawrence mean by ‘insinuation’? The online etymological dictionary gives us some clues:

insinuate (v.)

1520s, from Latin insinuatus, past participle of insinuare “to throw in, push in, make a way; creep in, intrude, bring in by windings and curvings, wind one’s way into,” from in- “in” + sinuare “to wind, bend, curve,” from sinus “a curve, winding.” Sense of “to introduce tortuously or indirectly” is from 1640s. Related: Insinuated; insinuating; insinuatingly.

Through such windings and curvings – themselves seemingly active and passive, thrown (geworfen?) and creeping, Lawrence’s prose insinuates itself into the reader’s consciousness. Through its exaggerated, rhythmic emphasis on repetition and near-repetition, it enacts something of the intensity of the experience it describes. Lydia is rendered simultaneously passive – an object of Tom’s desire, almost literally thrown by his proposal – and, from his perspective, strangely active, an agent working her entry into his life, creeping into his physical world which is also the world of The Rainbow. This world has, from the very first words of the novel, been altogether Tom’s in terms of inheritance, possession, territory – but it’s also been one structured and destructured by other insinuations, natural ones like the action of the river that ‘twisted sluggishly’ (p. 9) in the book’s first sentence, and historical ones like the ‘invasion’ of canal and collieries (p. 13) that marks the arrival of modernity to Marsh Farm.

Lawrence’s prose insinuates as it insists – it bends and curves, reflexively folding back on itself, repeating and reiterating, folding into itself the movements of selves, worlds, contexts, and natural forces, performing repeatedly and insistently through its oddly flexible syntax the actions and emotions it seeks to represent.

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