Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H. Lawrence
1928 (first published in Italy, later very much associated with Penguin)
For a couple of years now, I’ve meant to read this controversial book. The biggest reason is that some years back I saw the 2006 BBC movie The Chatterley Affair but, not having read the book, didn’t retain much. This needed to be rectified, because I still thought it a good movie, and so I finally got around to reading the actual work and re-watching the movie.
The first thing I’ve got to say is that Lady Chatterley’s Lover is nothing I thought it would be. Of course I knew there was going to be sex and rough language, but I expected those to be contained to a few scenes, and I certainly wasn’t expecting to read about sex in the first chapter. (Mind you, I went into this book straight after a reread of Pride and Prejudice, and so my nineteenth-century sensibilities were still engaged.) The style Lawrence writes in came as a surprise as well – I’d previously read “The Virgin and the Gypsy”, but in comparison Lady Chatterley feels remarkably modern.
You will have noticed I haven’t rated this book very high, and that is mostly due to the fact that I found it infuriating and boring in turns. There are some views to female sexuality expressed that made me want to scream and hurl the book at a wall (that Michaelis is a fucking brat). I ended up skimming a lot of the descriptions; I’m not huge on lengthy descriptions of forests or houses, although one gets the sense that they are symbolic in this novel. I recalled when I was about halfway through that Lawrence used colours in a very significant way in “The Virgin and the Gypsy” and tried to keep an eye on those, but failed. (If you’re considering picking this book up, pay attention to references to fire, be it in colours or other forms.)
As to the sex, well, from a modern point of view I found the scenes not very shocking, but that is to be expected. This is where I would like to start getting into The Chatterley Affair, because it offers some arguments and counter-arguments for the sex scenes, sometimes from perspectives I wasn’t aware of. I would say that people who consider this an immoral novel aren’t reading it properly (and, I’m going to say this, are probably middle-class white men in high positions). Some of the scenes that employ the crudest language are the sweetest moments, and, as is pointed out in the movie, thus they reclaim the words “fuck” and “cunt”, particularly brought out in the court proceedings, as useful words for natural things rather than obscenities.
So Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a novel about sex, but not in the way one would think. It’s about the role of sex in a relationship – Constance’s husband is paralysed and as a result incapable, and their connection was mental to begin with – as well as the mental side of sex. It’s also about class distinction, although I feel this aspect wasn’t quite balanced with the relationship aspect – this is actually rather reminiscent of Gaskell’s North and South, only less well balanced. Now, to close off on the novel, I want to say I very much approve this discussion of sex and psyche; however, I’m not quite pleased by the overpowering masculinity. Mellors is forever telling Constance what he wants and likes, and although she is not completely passive, certainly acted upon more than I like to see.
I will leave you with a quick description of The Chatterley Affair. Written by Andrew Davies, my favourite screenwriter and adapter, it is an account of the Chatterley trial in 1960. Although based on court records and in many ways factual, it is fictional when it comes to the jury, two members of which have an affair during the week the court proceedings took. Although in the end their relationship turns out to offer an insight into the novel, I would have been completely pleased to watch just the court proceedings for 100 minutes. The highlight for me is certainly David Tennant playing Richard Hoggart, who interestingly called Lady Chatterley’s Lover a puritanical work. This argument, Wikipedia tells me, is considered one of the decisive contributions to the outcome of the trial, and it is indeed presented very well in the movie.
Although I didn’t enjoy Lady Chatterley’s Lover much in the end, I recommend you read it anyway and then, if you are at all so inclined, watch The Chatterley Affair. The two complement each other in an interesting way, and help appreciate each other. A truly good pair of works!