Unliving

Image

A bit later in The Rainbow, Tom and Lydia are about to be married. Their relationship in these last pre-marital days is unsurprisingly presented by Lawrence as one of elemental struggle – between male and female ‘principles’, of course, but also as an intense wrestling of words (as the text struggles to express its meaning), and between the conditions of living and‘unliving’ (p. 55). An odd word: not ‘dead’, but perhaps working in relation to ‘living’ (and to ‘the blue, steady, livingness’ of Tom’s eyes, p. 54) as ‘undead’ does to ‘dead’.

It’s one of several ‘un-‘ words in this section of the novel: Lydia has ‘lapsed into the old unconsciousness, indifference’, while Tom is ‘held back by ‘uncouth fear’. She (in a typical Lawrence image) ‘was as new as a flower that unsheathes itself’, and is, later, ‘unfolded, ready to receive him’. He, held back by ‘honour’ (the Penguin edition Americanises this to ‘honor’), fails to respond, and, Lawrence writes, ‘went about unliving’. The ambiguity here is telling; he goes about in the condition of ‘unlivingness’, and he sets about the process of ‘unliving’, of undoing his life. Condition and process collide; Tom lost his ‘understanding’ and becomes ‘Inarticulate’ in a ‘wordless passion’; mirroring him, she ‘did not understand’ her foreignness to him. These intricate negations bind Tom to Lydia and to a conception of human intimacy that Lawrence presents as constrictive: ‘he was tied up as with cords, and could not move to her’, he writes, and, at the wedding, ‘The suspense only tightened at his heart. The jesting and joviality and jolly, broad insinuation of the guests only coiled him more. […] He could not get free’ (pp. 54-5).

‘Insinuation’ again: the creeping / thrown experience of intrusion and invasion. The ‘un-‘s and ‘in-‘s of unconsciousness and intimacy are veiled figures of the creeping movement of insinuation. Marianna Torgovnick writes, in 1980, of another kind of ‘insinuation’ in discussing pictorial imagery in Lawrence’s Women in Love:

‘Insinuation’ refers to conscious or unconscious dwelling upon an art object or pictorial image over a period of time, with a gradual clarification of meaning. Art objects and pictorial images insinuate themselves into the minds of characters in the novel and into the consciousness of the reader as well. Examples of such objects or images in Women in Love include the African statues in Halliday’s flat, Lawrence’s descriptions of women’s clothing, and certain moments in the text, such as Gudrun and Ursula’s sketching trip to Willey Water. One can usefully appropriate Lawrence’s own words to define the process: insinuation is the life of ‘the image as it lives in the consciousness, alive like a bird, but unknown’. At the moment when the visual image becomes ‘known’, its meaning crystallizes and is rendered in words. We know that insinuation has occurred when the process is essentially over. In its essence, then, insinuation is a form of visual memory or visual contemplation; as such, the process of insinuation proper is absent from the novel. Insinuation enters the novel directly only as the visual yields to the verbal, though its presence may be assumed for much of the novel.

(‘Pictorial Elements in Women in Love: The Uses of Insinuation and Visual Rhyme’, Marianna Torgovnick, Contemporary Literature, Vol. 21, No. 3, (Summer, 1980), pp. 420-434: pp. 421-2)

‘Insinuation’, in The Rainbow, seems an altogether different process to this elaboration of what I think is effectively an intense kind of ‘contemplation’. Lydia and Tom repeatedly experience insinuation as a ‘joining-together’, a commingling – to be either desired or resisted in a kind of rhythmic pulsing cycle as the narrative progresses – that exploits the word’s etymological links to related terms like ‘sinuous’, and even to homophonic and semantically suggestive but unconnected words like ‘sinister’. There is, after all, something faintly sinister about the ‘jolly insinuations’ of the wedding guests: a lewd implication, something implicitly debasing (like the simplistic alliteration and disordered incremento of ‘jesting / joviality / jolly’) of the spiritual and physical intensities Tom and Lydia experience, whether ‘unliving’ or in their full ‘livingness’.

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