Banned, burned, and the subject of a landmark obscenity trial, Lawrence's lyric and sensual last novel is now regarded as "our time's most significant romance." -- "The New York Times. "This classic tale of love and discovery pits the paralyzed and callous Clifford Chatterley against his indecisive wife and her persuasive lover.
Yes, I was the guy who never showed for morning classes, and closed the student pub. And at times, I was even the night watchman. So it should come as no surprise that when I finally got around to reading the book, last week, it was already the next century . A bit late. But better than never. Maybe even a form of a haute snobisme, my preferring to read dead authors AND be taught by dead professors?
But now at least I have an authentic and passionate opinion on the novel.
D.H.Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover is punk rock, in the finest sense. Sex pistols indeed. Anarchy in the UK - turn it up!. The book had me, using just three power chords: the conflict between classes, the barriers to sexual honesty, and the profound exploitation of the environment by capitalism.
These were issues, for Lawrence, in England after the Great War of 1914. They remain issues world-wide to this day. Lawrence, speaking sometimes through the character of Mellors, and sometimes through Lady Chatterley, is prophetic in his pessimism. The gap between the rich and the poor, the powerful and the powerless, has not been addressed by a rise in the overall standard of living in the West. Global consumerism is laying waste to the Arctic, Africa and the Amazon. And, ironically, enormous technical advances in communications media, have only added barriers to honest conversation. Like OMG how much of yourself should you reveal if it might be texted, myspaced, youtubed and there for all, on Google, in perpetuity?
It's hard not to love this novel for its underlying courage and outrage. And, its wit. I'm glad I never read it until 2008. In 1968, all my peers were rebelling, each to his or her own banner. Lawrence would have elicited a "So?" from me then. Now, many of my peers drive SUVs, live in McMansions, vote Republican, and kow-tow to evangelicals. Now I understand better, what a rare and brave cri de coeur this novel is.
So why read it? First and least, the text is an historical landmark in development of the English novel, both for it’s famous sexual content and the even more famous censorship battles it inspired. But historical landmarks are often bores to read, and Lady Chatterley Lover, for all it’s flaws, still engages. Much of it’s allure stems from the profound and maverick strangeness of the author’s mind. By the time Lady was written, decrying the evils of industrialization was common practice. But Lawrence surpassed all his peers in pure rage. Unlike the well-to-do members of the Bloomsbury group, Lawrence was a coalminer’s son who personally witnessed the mines physically and mentally cripple the community of his childhood. Add to this fact his atavistic love of nature, rarely shared by his modernist colleagues, and imagine him watching factories level the forests and pollute the air. It was a shock to me to discover that a seemingly erotic novel turned out so unconditionally angry. And this anger explains in part why Lady still has an edge; the sex may seem silly and tame, but the molten rage beneath it continues to unnerve.
Much to his credit, Lawrence did not merely condemn industrial society, he proposed an alternative. Now, his solution, taken in the extreme manner in which he believed in it, is where the book shows its age. “Organic Fucking” is the best summary I can give his vision of redemption. It is the fierce ancestor of the milk toast “Make Love Not War” ethos of the 1960s. “Mound of Venus” references aside, I believe Lawrence would ultimately reject the willed naiveté of the hippy movement; he was too discerning, too acquainted with struggle and sacrifice, to merely hold up the flower and bliss out. But both Lawrence and the flower children drew on adolescent fantasies in order to overthrow grim realities. Like all utopian visions, it ultimately failed. Lawrence shares this fate with another articulate and outraged enemy of industrialization, John Ruskin.
Yet while their respective solutions failed, Lawrence and Ruskin’s fiery salvos against modernity cannot be easily dismissed, nor can their willingness, at great personal sacrifice, to try and build a better world than the one they saw around them.
But Lawrence’s fighting spirit does not mark the beginning and end of his appeal. While even in his more successful works his writing is uneven, with clods of purple pose choking the flow of the page, at is best it is nigh perfect: sensuous yet limpid, reaching depths of emotion that seldom surface on the cool waters of English prose. At times he manages to combine dazzling complexity of language with a irresistible primitivism of feeling, like a frightening ancient and barbaric statue wrapped in exquisite lace. Once more, his insight into the relationships of men and women are unsurpassed in all of English literature. No one has written on that ancient subject with such honesty, observation, and intelligence. And this is the real reason that I still enjoy Lawrence, for all of his flaws. As I write this I have been married to a woman for five years, and I hope for many years to come. Lawrence helps me make sense, and ultimately helps me better appreciate, this wonderful, frightening, protean, beloved, despairing, baffling, joyous, mercurial bond that is a cornerstone of my life.
Or, to make no bones about it, of being just plain bad.
This is less a review than an homage to my crazy mother (now I have you really intrigued, don't I?)
It was 1983, and I was in my first Catholic school. I'd spent my first six years of school in a public school, but my "behavioral issues" coupled with my lack of growth made me a target for bullies, so my parents were advised to move me to another school where no one knew me.
So off I went to the home room of a fallen nun, who'd given up her habit for a family. She wasn't much of a teacher. She was an old school Catholic educator who practiced punitive teaching, which included kicks to the shins, yanking of ears, pulling of hair, and screaming from close range.
I kept my head down and tried to blend in with my new surroundings, but my Mother made that difficult from the get go. I was a voracious reader, and she passed on the disease to me. From grade two on she had been recommending great books to me. I was reading everything before most everyone else, but my Mom's recommendation of Lady Chatterly's Lover in my first month of Catholic school was probably her most outrageous and unforgettable recommendation.
She bought me a copy at the book store in the mall, and that's where I met one of my favourite words of all time -- cunt.
Back in 1983, cunt was not a word in your average child's vocabulary. Sure we'd heard it, and maybe even seen it, but it was not something that was regularly used by kids, and its usage was pretty vague to every 13 year old I knew.
But there it was in Lady Chatterly's Lover. It was all over the place. So as I read the story and absorbed the way Lawrence used cunt, his usage became my usage. Lawrence used cunt beautifully; it was not a term of denigration; it was not used to belittle; it was not an insult nor something to be ashamed of; cunt was lyrical, romantic, caring, intimate. And I came to believe that cunt was meant to be used in all these ways. That the poetic use of cunt was the accepted use of cunt, the correct use of cunt, and suddenly cunt was part of my vocabulary.
I was thirteen.
Now I didn't just start running around using cunt at every opportunity. I did what I always did with new words that I came to know and love. I added them to my vocabulary and used them when I thought it was appropriate.
And when I whispered it to Tammy, the girl I had a crush on, a few weeks later, thinking that it was the sort of romantic, poetic language that made women fall in love with their men (I can't remember what I said with it, but I know it was something very much like what Mellors would have said to Constance), she turned around with a deep blush, a raised eyebrow and a "That's disgusting" that rang through the class (I can still see the red of autumn leaves that colored her perfectly alabaster skin under a shock of curly black hair, aaaah...Tammy. Apparently she had a better sense of cunt's societal taboos than I did). Mrs. C--- was on her feet and standing parallel to the two of us in a second, demanding to know what was going on.
To her credit, Tammy tried to save me -- sort of. She said "Nothing." Then Mrs. C--- turned on me; I was completely mortified (I'd obviously blown it with the first girl I loved in junior high school), and while I was in this shrinking state, Mrs. C--- demanded to know what was happening and what I had said.
I tried to avoid repeating what I had said. I admitted I shouldn't have been talking. I admitted that I should have been working. I tried to divert her attention. But she was a scary lady, and I couldn't help myself. I repeated what I had said -- as quietly as I could -- but as soon as Mrs. C--- heard "cunt" I was finished. That was the moment I knew "cunt" was the catalyst for the whole debacle.
Now...I'd known before that the word was taboo, but I didn't think it would generate the response it did. I really thought that Tammy would be flattered. And I certainly didn't expect that I would be dragged to the office by an angry ex-nun. Silly me.
I got the strap. It was the first time (although there would be another). Three lashes to the palm of the hand.
I didn't use "cunt" in public or private for a long time after that, but my punishment couldn't diminish my love for the word. Lawrence made such and impression on my young mind that neither humiliation nor physical pain could overcome my appreciation of cunt's poetic qualities.
To me the word is and always will be a beautiful and, yes, gentle thing.
Every time that event was recounted at the dinner table over the years, whether it was amongst family, or with my girlfriends or my future wife, my Mom always got this sly little grin on her face and indulged in a mischievous giggle before refusing to take the blame for me getting the strap. After all, "Who was the one who was stupid enough to use the word, Brad? Not me."
I love her response as much as I love the word.
And in case you were wondering, my Mom never stopped recommending books to me. She was an absolute kook. I miss her.
I can't wait to pass on Lady Chatterly's Lover to my kids...but I think it's going to have to be in grade three if it's going to have the same effect it had on me...hmmm...I wonder how that will go over.
The bedroom scenes, for which Lady Chatterley's Lover is famous, are less sensual than one might expect and almost clinical in their descriptions. The relationship between Connie and Mellors is not one of shared love and respect but rather one of dominance and submission and even gratitude over their mutual sexual satisfaction. What they say, or don’t say, to each other is definitely more important than what they do to each other. The one thing that becomes abundantly clear is that the 21st century has nothing on the 1920s in the form of the act itself or the language used.
Where Lady Chatterley's Lover gets its true punch is not through its infamous bedroom scenes but rather through its rather blunt discussions of class and the blurring of the lines between them that occurred after the First World War. The fact that Connie is having an affair is not as shocking as the fact that her affair is with someone who society considers to be of a lower class than her and is in fact one of her husband’s employees. Affairs are okay; intermingling of the classes is not. Through Connie and Mellors’ relationship, and Mellors’ continued confusion about his place in society, Lawrence highlights the change that was occurring in English society after the war. Class lines were blurring, if not disappearing, and some embraced the change more than others. Lady Chatterley's Lover forced readers of that era to take a look at their own prejudices about class and recognize that this issue was not stagnating the way they always have. Modern-day readers receive a historical glimpse of the social turmoil brought about by the post-war era and what truly ruffled feathers during this time.
Lady Chatterley's Lover is not a novel about which readers can rave about how amazingly awesome it is. Instead, it is a novel that requires careful reading and even more careful thinking about what was read. The language itself makes this a novel for a select audience. Those easily offended or remotely squeamish about curse words or crude slang terms for anatomical parts would be well advised to not even attempt to read it. However, those who can get past the shock and awe that Lawrence successfully managed to incorporate in the novel will appreciate the cautionary, almost revolutionary ideas he posits regarding class, scholarship, and relationships.
I always think kids reading this novel for the sexy bits; but I have to say that once Lady Chatterly actually got with the gamekeeper, that's when I lost interest. I found the negotiations and tension leading up to it more interesting; the post-coital dialogue becomes more pedantic.
Wanted to be more impressed - I've enjoyed Lawrence in the past- but in this instance found the author's prose style annoyingly repetitive, his characters unsympathetic, and his "evidences" of society's decline unnecessarily strident and uncon... (show more)
If you actually read the parts before, in between, and after the sex scenes, this is a rather pompous, tedious tirade on how industrialism/socialism/feminism/intellectualism/the class system are sucking all the tenderness from the world.
Wanted to be more impressed - I've enjoyed Lawrence in the past- but in this instance found the author's prose style annoyingly repetitive, his characters unsympathetic, and his "evidences" of society's decline unnecessarily strident and unconvincing.
I get that Lawrence was upset about industrialization destroying pretty rural towns, about "smart young things" embracing a sort of pretentious intellectualism over common sense, etc., but this overly-pedantic volume seems more misanthropic than anthropologic. Can Lawrence really believe the world would be a better place if only humans would eschew money, grow our own food, and embrace ignorance in exchange for a naturalistic, sensual existance? More to the point, does he really expect his readers to believe this?
Admit I now find myself wondering: were the publishers really put off by the sex, or secretly glad to have an excuse not to publish this? Similarly, was the scatalogical text really necessary to make his point, or did Lawrence include it because he was afraid that, without it, his misanthropic rant might be dismissed entirely?
DH Lawrence is, of course, a really amazing writer and there were some passages that have stayed with me all this time. The bit about there being plenty of fish in the sea, but if you aren't the right sort of fish (herring, mackeral?) then really there weren't that many fish in the sea. He said it better of course!
I also really appreciated the depiction of intimacy. Sex as something imperfect and flawed yet still moving and meaningful. The focus on intimacy through imperfection was so new to me. I understand it more now than I did then, and I'm kind of amazed at how well Lawrence wrote the female character's experience so well.
I'm really glad I read this book. I wonder if it isn't about time for a re-read!
The most damning flaw in this book is that the central romance, as well as the behavior of the characters throughout the novel, didn't feel realistic in the slightest. D. H. Lawrence obviously set out to write the book that revealed the physical, sex-driven side of relationships (and probably was trying to shock with certain passages as well, but let's ignore that for a moment), but his attempt to portray a sexual relationship and the emotions that go with it is almost laughable. The interactions are so unnatural, so artificial, that they're completely removed from reality: it's as if someone today tried to write a book about sex, but their experience in the topic was limited to watching porn. Perhaps in the broadest strokes the writer would get it right, but all of the details would feel off. Here none of the particulars ring true, instead it feels like Lawrence wrote what he thought a sexual romance would be without having any knowledge of it himself, throwing in the words fuck and cunt, as well as passages of sexual theory blather, in order to mask the fact that he doesn't really know what he's talking about.
This lack of realism extends to the characters as well, who don't seem to do things in believable ways. Clifford is the clearest example of this, with Lawrence changing the character in order to fit into whatever role is needed for that chapter. First he's rather kind and charming, a writer who is shy even among his friends. Then he goes from writer to businessman, developing into an extremely competent businessman and becoming assertive over other people. While doing this he alternates between clingy, stubborn, and mean in a way that wasn't shown earlier in the book. There's one chapter that says that Clifford never had guests over anymore, and then two pages later discusses the important business guests that were staying at the estate that night. Lawrence fails to depict a single realistic character in this book, and Clifford seems blatantly changed at times in order to push forward the story.
The book is also peppered with passages of characters discussing issues or espousing theories, and every single one is boring and foolish. In the early chapters Clifford and his cronies sit in a room and discuss sex and Bolshevism and things, and everything they say is inane bullshit. These characters are supposed to be "intellectuals" in name only and actually lacking in substance, so at first you give Lawrence the benefit of the doubt, but later he puts speeches about sexuality into the mouth of Mellors that are equally inane. Given the largely positive portrayal of Mellors there is no reason to think that Lawrence meant his speeches to be taken as satire, but even if he did and a message of the book was supposed to be that no one knows what they're talking about, that message should have been delivered in a more interesting manner. Instead the general lesson that Lawrence is espousing throughout the book is that modern society, with its obsession with money, is bad and vastly inferior to an undefined yesteryear where men were men and they didn't live only to spend money on things. It's an incredibly unoriginal stance, and Lawrence doesn't say anything new about it, and in general I've always found the position idiotic. That's not to say that most of the book actually angered me or inspired emotion in any way; as exemplified by the shock passages that fail to shock, I would say the overwhelming feeling this book inspired in me was boredom.
Lady Chatterley's Lover just doesn't do anything well enough and sometimes does things downright poorly. If you want to read about a fully realized woman with an inner life, read Mrs. Dalloway. If you want to read a story of a man whose injuries prevent him from being physically intimate with women and the relationships he has because of that, read The Sun Also Rises. If you want to read a male's take on female sexuality and desires, read Ulysses. Heck, even if the setting of a coal town or the unresolved coal mine subplot of Lady Chatterley's Lover is what strikes your fancy, you're better off reading Germinal by Zola. All of these works predate Lady Chatterley's Lover, and all are superior to it. Unless you're interested in tracing the roots of the cheap paperback romance novels I'd recommend skipping this one.
The character of Clifford Chatterley appears to be symbolic of a man divorced from his own body on many levels. He represents a de-sexualisation of the male body by the war and disability. But he also represents a mind/body split via intellectual disembodiment. The emotional and sexual nothingness of Clifford Chatterley seems to infect Constance with depression. She then finds self-discovery and expression through her affair with Mellors, and through a connection with nature. I think that the contrast between Constance and Chatterley teases out larger dichotomies and tensions between the personal and social/political spheres.
I suppose in the character of Mellors, Lawrence was trying to define a sort of archetypal male. However I’m not sure that Lawrence quite gets that right. I don’t believe in a post-feminist era, that Mellors appears in a good light, nor do I agree with Constance’s acceptance of the very little he offers her in terms of emotional support or responsibility.
There’s a lot more that can be said about this book, it’s incredibly rich. It is of course remembered for the controversy it inspired, and by today’s standards, the content of the novel is pretty tame. What I find still so fresh and remarkable is how brave this is in its attempt to understand the sexualisation of romantic love. I think it’s a remarkable attempt by Lawrence to understand a subject so mysterious and yet so embedded and fundamental to the human condition.