This essay reveals the unexpected yet profound ways stained glass contributes to the representational logic of Lawrence’s fiction, especially his early story “A Fragment of Stained Glass” (1908) and The Rainbow (1915). Lawrence develops a prose style that mimics stained glass’s visual aesthetic—its juxtaposition of translucent, glowing color with opaque line that holds and tempers it—and its power to shape psychological interiors by shaping exterior surroundings. Especially in narrating moments when a character struggles to comprehend her relationship to another person or to the external world, Lawrence’s prose converts stained glass’s organizing principles into syntax, foregrounding the contrasts and overlaps between nouns and adjectives, independent and dependent clauses, and words’ multiple repetitions. In doing so, he formalizes a conceptual parallel: the non-verbal medium’s filtering of white light into netted color is repeated when a writer filters the raw materials of sensory perception into hierarchies we think of as central to the novel—character’s primacy over setting, or representation’s primacy over elaboration. In undoing such hierarchies, Lawrence takes to their logical endpoints late nineteenth-century debates about decorative aesthetics, foregrounding the plastic arts’ emphasis on the expressive power of patterning over depiction.
D. H. Lawrence’s Stained Glass
Irena Yamboliev is a lecturer at Stanford University. Her book manuscript “All Art is Ornamental: Ornament, Form, and the Victorian Real” shows the many and varied ways in which Victorian novelists turned to ornament as a formal analog for their realist projects. Her work has appeared in Victorian Literature and Culture; Nineteenth-Century Contexts; and Britain, Representation, Nineteenth-Century History. A new book project will consider the ecological potential of multigenerational novels.
Irena Yamboliev; D. H. Lawrence’s Stained Glass. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 March 2021; 67 (1): 1–30. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8912247
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