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[368] Lady Chatterley’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence

” In this short summer night she learnt so much. She would have thought a woman would have died of shame. Instead of which, the shame died. Shame, which is fear: the deep organic shame, the old, old physical fear which crouches in the bodily roots of us, and can only be chased away by the sensual fire, at least it was roused up… ” [16:247]

In 1917, at 23, Constance Reid married Clifford Chatterley, the scion of an aristocratic line, to become Lady Chatterley. After a month’s honeymoon, Clifford is sent to war, and returns paralyzed below the waist and impotent. Readers first see Connie Chatterley through the narrator’s lens: she, though well-off and married to a baronet, is unhappy and unfulfilled. “Everything is nothingness.” Only her keen intuition reveals to her a core of despair that is unassuaged by Clifford or his clever Cambridge friends. Whereas Connie longs for human contact, Clifford is supercilious, contemptuous of anyone below his class, and is growing conscious of his being lamed—and he is miserably alone.

It was as if thousands and thousands of the little roots and threads of consciousness in him and her had grown together into a tangled mass, till they could crowd no more, and the plant is dying. [7:83]

In the void of her life [2:18] comes Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper on the estate. He is aloof and derisive, and yet Connie feels curiously drawn to him by his self-contained assurance, innate nobility, and undercurrents of natural sensuality. In the army he has seen the world, has rejected its values, and for a while welcomes his separateness so that he can heel “a big wound from his old contacts,” [7:88], in particular his truant and brutish wife. What begins as a mental excitement for both has become an affair—so consummate that they want to live together.

Almost with bitterness he watched her go. She had connected him up again, when he had wanted to be alone. She had cost him that bitter privacy of a man who at last wants only to be alone. [10:118]

The novel was privately published in 1928, available in three versions and was banned after its publication in 1960. The explicit sexual content, which maps the progress of Connie and Oliver’s relationship, despite fear of recrimination and complications bound to follow, grows more graphic as they become closer, connecting on a primordial physical level, as woman and man rather than as two intellects. For Connie’s it’s passion and for Oliver cruel sense of unfinished aloneness that drive them together. Each transforms through the relationship. In one another they find security from a cruel world that is deprived of passion, and that which values words about feelings rather than feelings.

And I’m very mistrustful. You’ll have to expect it. It takes a lot to make me trust anybody, inwardly. So perhaps I’m a fraud too. [14:204]

The scandalous novel doesn’t advocate for sex, nor does it attempt to portray it as sacred. It advocates for true love, which is only possible through true feeling. The reason love is alright if one takes it lightly, as an amusement, is because of counterfeit (unsure) feelings. From parents downwards, or upwards, we have been taught to mistrust everyone emotionally. Never trust with feelings for they are bound to be trampled on. Lawrence comes full circle to argue for individual regeneration through relationship rooted in true love. The main point of Lady Chatterley’s Lover is the search for integrity and wholeness. The key to this integrity is the cohesion between mind and body. Connie and Oliver’s respective dissatisfaction lead them into a relationship that builds very slowly and is based upon tenderness, physical passion and mutual respect. When there is an interrelation of the mind and body, sex is more than a shameful and disappointing act, it fosters intimacy. The weakness (if I really have to be fault-finding) of the novel is not the much-debated issues with sexually explicit content, but that very rarely does Lawrence attempt to disentangle his own prejudices and predispositions from those of his characters’ through the person of his narrator. Instead of employing the consistent presentation of Connie Chatterley’s point of view, the novel aims at persuading readers to accept as far as possible the sexual philosophy that Lawrence proclaims, an undertaking which at that time was both risky and difficult.

364 pp. Penguins Cambridge D.H. Lawrence edition. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]

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12 Responses

  1. You know, I never knew exactly what this book was about, just that it was like literary porn. I guess I should have known better, and in fact, I think it sounds like something that needs to go on my classic TBR.

  2. I’ve really not read any DH Lawrence, but I vow to do so this year (have The Rainbow on my pile), but I’d like to read Lady Chatterly, too. Interesting that so much of Lawrence’s philosophy so obviously came through the story.

  3. I picked this up a hard back copy of this maybe a year ago. I have yet to read it, but it’s been on my to-read list for a long time, especially after hearing about the controversy about the book while in law school.

    • It banned in the British Commonwealth. When the ban was lifted in late 1960, the book was sold out in the UK within a week. The ban actually helped the novel achieve some publicity.

  4. Having read Sons and Lovers and really enjoyed it I am almost embarrassed to admit that I’ve not sought out any of Lawrence’s other works. I am definitely adding this to my list now that I have read your review and understand better what the book is about.

    • Sons and Lovers, Woman in Love, and Rainbow are all on my shelf now thanks to the library step sale that has started again for the summer. I will be in no shortage of D.H. Lawrence’s books. Even after 50 years of its publication, the explicit content of Lady Chatterley’s Lover still shocks me.

  5. Thanks for the intro! I purchased a copy just a month or two ago and keep meaning to get to it…

  6. I have Sons and Lovers lined up for later this year; I collected several of his novels in my 20s because I’d read and loved The Lost Girl but then promptly moved onto other authors. Too many distractions…you know how it is!

    • I also have Sons and Lovers lined up after Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I have never read him in high school or college. That I have finally overcome some unknown fear about an author is certainly a gratifying feeling.

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