The Rainbow and the Rose

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First edition

The Rainbow and the Rose is a novel by Nevil Shute. It was first published in England in 1958 by William Heinemann.


The title is taken from a sonnet "The Treasure" by Rupert Brooke, which is quoted in full as a preface:

When colour goes home into the eyes,
    And lights that shine are shut again
With dancing girls and sweet birds' cries
    Behind the gateways of the brain;
And that no-place which gave them birth, shall close
The rainbow and the rose:—

Still may Time hold some golden space
    Where I'll unpack that scented store
Of song and flower and sky and face,
    And count, and touch, and turn them o'er,
Musing upon them; as a mother, who
Has watched her children all the rich day through,
Sits, quiet-handed, in the fading light,
When children sleep, ere night.[1]

Plot summary[edit]

The story concerns the life of Johnnie Pascoe, a retired commercial and military pilot, who has engaged in a dangerous rescue in a mountainous region of Tasmania. He has crashed his plane and lies injured and unconscious in the house of the child he had been sent to help. Hearing of his plight, Ronnie Clarke, a younger pilot who was taught to fly by Pascoe, offers to try and land a doctor (in atrocious weather, from a Taylorcraft Auster) to assist. His efforts do not succeed. Whilst resting at Pascoe's house that night, Clarke dreams of aspects of the life of his former mentor.

Pascoe had been a fighter pilot during The Great War and had married an up-and-coming actress. At war's end they had become separated and his wife accepted a role in Hollywood, and filed for divorce from there with sole custody of their daughter. A few years later, Pascoe opens a small flying school and is embroiled in an adulterous affair with a local upper-class woman, Brenda Marshall, whose husband is in a mental asylum. Things go awry after the birth of a daughter between her and Pascoe and the woman commits suicide, by deliberately crashing her light aircraft, when she learns that her divorce request from her husband has been refused.

In the final part of the story, we learn of Pascoe's later life as a civil pilot shortly before the story's opening. It seems that he has become enamoured of one of the flight attendants. In a touching scene, Pascoe proposes marriage to this young woman only to learn that she is his daughter by Brenda Marshall.

The framing story closes with Ronnie Clarke making a successful attempt at Pascoe's rescue only to learn that Pascoe had died during the night.

Like Conrad, Shute often uses a narrator to tell the story; in The Rainbow and the Rose, the narrator periodically shifts from Clarke to Pascoe.


  1. ^ Brooke, Rupert (1915). Wikisource link to 1914 & other Poems. London: Sidgwick & Jackson. Wikisource. p. 16.